In cloud computing and resource virtualisation circles, hardware can often take a back seat in the performance debate. The separation of the virtual and the physical suggests to some that it doesn’t really matter what hardware you’re running on, all that matters is how many virtual server instances you can produce of varying sizes and how functional your UI and APIs are. However, as growing interest in ‘bare metal’ cloud services demonstrates, there is an increased level of knowledge and expectation of server performance from business users, as they search out options that produce more consistency and power to drive their applications. Hardware may well be a commodity but it doesn’t mean all DRAM modules, HDDs, CPUs, SSDs are all the same – and it certainly doesn’t mean every supplier is the same in how they go about ensuring you get the most out of your hardware purchase! That’s where Kingston Technology’s KingstonConsult service comes in – a free service designed to help you get the most out of your hardware, and frequently there are rich rewards for getting the experts to cast their eye over your operation, as we can see in this case study.
The Business challenge
i3D.net began in 2004 when CEO Stijn Koster put together his first server for gaming customers. Since then, he’s built a managed hosting provider company with over 8,000 servers at 16 datacentres across Europe, Australia, Japan, South Africa and the United States. A broad range of 30,000 customers make use of i3D.net’s online infrastructure services and managed hosting solutions.
Those clients include brand-name game companies that leverage high-performance servers. All told, the company’s servers allow 1,000,000 gamers to play their favourite titles daily. Additionally, i3D.net’s enterprise customers use hosted servers to run applications with high-availability and high-capacity requirements.
That puts company engineers under pressure to field ever-more powerful solutions. “We consistently see higher server specifications year on year,” says Stijn Koster, CEO for i3D.net in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “So our customers continuously drive us to boost the performance, capacity and reliability of our servers.”
Motivated by the desire to save money, the company’s enterprise customers require i3D.net to increase the number of virtual server instances that each server can host–all without sacrificing performance. “We needed to raise our server utilisation rates because many of them were already near 100 per cent,” recalls Koster. “We considered it an essential goal to help us increase our market share.”
For gaming customers, performance translates into servers that minimise lag times. That’s particularly important for twitch-game (first-person shooter) titles that rely upon prompt screen refreshes to deliver a satisfactory, multi-player game user experience. “Our gaming customers have zero tolerance for slow performance,” says Koster. “If our servers don’t deliver responsive game play, they’ll go somewhere else.”
With the release of new games and gaming platforms like Xbox® and PlayStation®, the company’s engineers have to continuously raise the bar on server capabilities. “The new gaming platforms utilise a lot of cloud infrastructure,” explains Koster. “So the servers running the game clients need storage for the platform and game, plus enough memory to run them well. To meet these requirements we had to double our servers’ memory.”
The new gaming platforms utilise a lot of cloud infrastructure … the game clients need storage for the platform and game, plus enough memory to run them well
“Before we purchase a large batch of memory or SSDs, we run extensive benchmark and compatibility tests,” says Koster. “We’ve had a really good experience with Kingston® products over the years. That, plus our test results, motivated us to select them as our memory and SSD partner.”
Maximising server memory performance for gaming customers
i3D.net specialists worked with KingstonConsult experts to identify the maximum memory speed supported by legacy server processors. They also reviewed chipset specs to understand the processor memory support rules. Then, they recommended the best Kingston memory modules and configurations to meet performance goals. To extend the service life of existing servers, specialists recommended the use of high-density modules that left memory slots available for future memory expansions.
“My engineers told me that the installation experience was plug-and-play–and that’s how it should be in today’s marketplace,” stated Koster. “They also liked that the compatibility of the memory with our processors was easy to check with Kingston’s Configurator.”
Maximising server memory capacity for enterprise customers
To support corporate virtualisation requirements, it was necessary to upgrade servers to the maximum memory capacity they could support. To meet this need, Kingston specialists recommended the largest capacity memory modules that the company provides.
“Working with Kingston allows us to customise our server configurations as needed to meet our customers’ requirements,” says Koster. “That way, we’re able to offer a tailored solution portfolio versus a one-size-fits all. And that’s been very attractive to our customers.”
Maximising server IOPS
When you replace the millisecond read-write times of HDDs with the microsecond times of SSDs, that adds up to a lot of IOPS per server.
“Our emphasis on markedly increasing IOPS was really driven by our customers’ demand for it,” explains Koster. “Kingston engineers showed us how to achieve that end using SSDs. When you replace the millisecond read-write times of HDDs with the microsecond times of SSDs, that adds up to a lot of IOPS per server.
Kingston memory modules, SSDs and consultation services helped i3D.net realise a number of business, financial and technical benefits.
Significant server performance enhancements deliver competitive advantage
The new online gaming platforms can accommodate 60–100 players per instance running on i3D.net servers. “Previously, these loads stressed out our servers,” recalls Koster. “But since we upgraded them with Kingston memory and SSDs, we’ve been able to double the gaming instances from 32 to 64, with some servers able to handle up to 100. And we’ve done that while limiting lag to deliver an enjoyable user experience.”
Additionally, the Kingston enterprise-class SSDs helped solve the company’s server IO latency bottleneck. “The limiting factor was our HDDs, not our processors,” states Koster. “By eliminating that log jam, we’ve been able to help corporate customers lower their costs by placing more virtual systems on each server.”
Our server infrastructure has […] given us a competitive edge against other infrastructure providers like Amazon and Microsoft
The server performance enhancements certainly yielded significant technical benefits. For Koster, however, the real prize was that “Our server infrastructure has been a fundamental part of the organic growth of our company. It has given us a competitive edge against other infrastructure providers like Amazon and Microsoft. By offering customers tailored server solutions, we’ve experienced double-digit growth.”
Enterprise-class reliability supports Service Level Agreements
Another key element to i3D.net’s success is its SLA guarantee of 99.99 per cent availability. To ensure this standard, i3D.net technicians log and analyse device failure incidents.
“The Kingston solutions have definitely made it easier for us to meet our SLAs,” says Koster. “The MTBF [mean time between failures] of their modules is incredible. Since we started using them, we’ve reduced DRAM failures by 50 per cent. And because we use Kingston as our default brand, we don’t have to de-bug memory from different brands so we’re saving 10 per cent in staff labour hours as well.”
These results stem from Kingston’s rigorous testing, and quality assurance procedures. Consequently, Kingston backs its memory products with a lifetime warranty while the Enterprise SSD product line is backed by a three-year warranty. And with program/erase cycles of 30,000, the durability of the E-series SSDs is typically 10 times what client SSDs offer.
KingstonCare and consultation services deliver added value
They’ve been advising us on how to gain the maximum performance from specific server configurations …we don’t see that level of engagement from other vendors.
Kingston offers a suite of free services collectively titled KingstonCare. These include hassle-free RMA (return merchandise authorisation) plus RMA product cross-shipping and on-site device spares. Together, the services are designed to reduce customer downtime and promote the meeting of SLAs.
“Between KingstonCare and the reliability of their solutions, we simply don’t have RMA stress here,” explains Koster. “That’s a huge benefit when you consider that we have 8,000 servers to administer.”
Koster also praises the performance of Kingston technicians. “They’ve been advising us on how to gain the maximum performance from specific server configurations. That’s an added value to us that sets them apart. It’s pretty unique and we don’t see that level of engagement from other vendors.”
- Gained competitive advantage by offering flexible server configurations.
- Optimised servers (memory & SSDs) for performance, capacity and IOPS.
- Doubled number of instances that gaming servers can run.
- Significantly increased number of virtual systems that corporate servers can run.
- More easily meet 99.99 per cent Service Level Agreement (SLA) specification to retain and gain customers.
- Slashed DRAM failures by 50 per cent since standardising on Kingston memory modules.
- Durable, enterprise-class SSDs deliver 30,000 program/erase cycles – up to 10 times those of competing solutions.