Mental Ward

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Nutanix and the Problem of Performance Testing

As I wrote about recently, hyperconvergence vendor Nutanix and VMware have been battling over testing of their products. That battle took an interesting turn last week, when one storage testing site took Nutanix to task over its hesitancy to let the site test its appliances.

Performance benchmarking and testing, as you may know, is a sensitive topic for many vendors. They can fear testing for a number of reasons: apples-to-oranges tests, pristine test environments that don't account for real-world scenarios, bad testing methodologies and so on. And they're right to be cautious; testing can be skewed to give the results a certain vendor wants; in addition, many reviewers aren't very sophisticated about testing, and don't understand how to do it right.

No Cluster for You!
But Nutanix didn't do itself any favors with its recent behavior toward StorageReview.com. In an article titled "Why We Don't Have a Nutanix NX-8150 Review," Brian Beeler discusses the problems he had getting that particular Nutanix appliance. Here's his summary of the events:

"Nutanix sent an NX-8150 cluster for review, our testing revealed performance issues, Nutanix made several software updates over six months to improve performance, in June they asked to update our cluster with newer Haswell-based systems, we agreed, Nutanix then backtracked and refused to send the promised replacements."

It's a long saga, and details how Nutanix became increasingly wary of publishing the results of any performance testing unless it had final approval of StorageReview's article. Nutanix also asked StorageReview not to use industry-standard methodologies like VMmark and Sysbench for testing. "Until we have a mutually agreed upon plan, we ask that you not undertake any performance testing of the Nutanix product, or publish results of prior performance testing," Nutanix said in an email, a snippet of which StorageReview posted.

Mistakes Were Made
Lukas Lundell, global director of Solutions and Performance Engineering at Nutanix, responded in StorageReview's forums (Lundell fired the main shots at VMware's attempts to test Nutanix vs. VMware products). To his great credit, he apologizes for Nutanix's failure to properly handle its interactions with StorageReview: "… it appears like we definitely started off on the wrong foot, and it's very clear we mismanaged this situation.  We didn't treat them like a customer, and that was a big mistake."

That's absolutely the right way to do it. Take your lumps where you should; no one will feel more negative toward a company that admits mistakes; on the contrary, they tend to trust that company more, rather than less.

It's also important to point out that numerous Nutanix customers responded on the same forum thread, and they were uniformly happy with their Nutanix experience. Here's a typical example, from "nathanmace": "Our Nutanix experience has been excellent, rock solid stability, great performance, and some of the best support I've ever dealt with."

But StorageReview's experience with Nutanix, combined with Nutanix's vitriol toward VMware, makes me wonder why the company appears to be so worried about anyone publishing test results of its products (and Nutanix's attempts to control what's actually published), and so eager to quash any attempt to evaluate the performance of its products or compare it to others. It's especially puzzling in light of the excellent reputation Nutanix generally has in the industry; it's not like it's some fly-by-night startup with no track record of happy customers.

Questions That Need Answers
Bob Plankers, an analyst with The Virtualization Practice, has some of the same questions I do, which he posted on his personal blog: "Why can't I run a standard benchmark like VMmark on a Nutanix cluster? Why can't people share performance results? If I bought one of these would I be able to talk about my performance? Why is Nutanix uncomfortable with performance results?" 

The reality is that nearly any test that anyone wants to run could be blasted as somehow invalid or biased, if one wants to dig into the testing details to the nth degree. Yes, there's a right way and a wrong way to test, and the wrong ways should be called out. But nitpicking results in good tests -- and good testers, like StorageReview -- because of slight variations here or there, seems unnecessarily defensive.

The Beginning -- Not the End
The last thing to say about performance testing is that test results are a starting point, not an end point, when evaluating storage, networks, infrastructure or anything else in IT. They should never be the final word for your datacenter. They are one factor of many to consider. Nutanix has many fans. So does VMware. They have them for a reason.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/10/2015 at 1:09 PM


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