Oct 18, 2013
With the variety of hardware that can now run enterprise-class virtualization it’s no surprise people are trying new things with all different hardware.
Take the Mac mini for instance, a very affordable, pint-sized computer starting at about $600. This little beauty can be powered with VMware’s ESXi (albeit not officially supported). In today’s world of virtualized applications, once you have an enterprise class hypervisor, you can do just about anything.
After many years of working in the WAN optimization space, I realize people tend to think of WAN optimization as “appliances” that need to be rack-mounted in a network closet or data center with loud fans and power-hungry requirements.
When I recently saw ESXi running on a Mac mini, I saw an opportunity to do something different — run Silver Peak WAN optimization software for high bandwidth in an itty-bitty box. You could put this box under your desk, in a back room, or even wall mount it.
So which Mac mini works for what I’m proposing?
The Mac mini starts at a list price of $599 and would support WAN optimization up to 20 megabits-per-second (Mbps). For $699, I got a box capable of 50 Mbps, and for $1,099 you could support up to 200 Mbps of WAN capacity. If you look into older model Mac minis you could probably have even lower entry costs. (Note: The Mac mini is not officially on the hardware compatibility list for VMware so ‘whitebox’ at your own risk.)
For this test in my lab, I selected a T3 MPLS circuit from Denver, CO to Jersey City, NJ with roughly 50 milliseconds (ms) of latency to test on. To get performance numbers, I used NetApp SnapMirror replication to push data. This way, I can make sure that the software performs as expected even when using a piece of small form-factor hardware like the Mac mini.
What you need to recreate this:
Installing VMware ESXi on the Mac mini:
While VMware has started adding full support for Mac platforms like the xServe and Mac Pro, at this point I will reiterate that the Mac Mini is not a fully-supported VMware server, so there is a little bit of tweaking needed. But there are plenty of guides on the web (ESXi 5.1 & ESXi 5.5) which can help you get this done.
Many thanks go out to the folks at virtuallyGhetto and the VM community for making this a reality. If I hadn’t come across this guide I never would have tried this out.
Now we install the Silver Peak software:
This part is easy. Visit the Silver Peak software marketplace and download a free trial.
Connect to the network:
Once the Silver Peak virtual machine (VM) is up and running we simply need to send the network traffic to Silver Peak to be optimized. For this test, I simply routed my NetApp SnapMirror replication through the appliance following Silver Peak’s Velocity Replication Acceleration (VRX) guide.
The link I tested on is an MPLS circuit from Denver to Jersey City with about 50 ms of latency. Within a few minutes of installing the Silver Peak software, my NetApp SnapMirror jobs were moving over 10x faster. Looking at the reports the Silver Peak appliance gives me. I saw an average of about 200 Mbps worth of optimized throughput while only using around 40 Mbps of my WAN.
Before the Silver Peak appliance was in place I was only getting about 10-15 Mbps of throughput out of my NetApp SnapMirror application on a 45 Mbps circuit. With Silver Peak, I was seeing peaks over 250 Mbps!
The hardware runs at about $700 list price and the software starts at about $500 for an annual subscription. At 45 Mbps, the annual subscription is about $12,000. Compared to how much I am paying for that MPLS circuit and how much 200 Mbps of bandwidth would cost me, that’s nothing.
Patrick McCabe is a senior systems engineer for Silver Peak covering the Rocky Mountain territory. He has been working with WAN optimization for more than seven years. He is VCP5, CCNP, and CCDP certified, and has a passion for data center design and implementation.