F5’s study to optimize BIG-IP Virtual Edition performance on Dell PowerEdge Servers

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Frank Strobel
Published September 28, 2022

Given that Dell Technologies is the leading server manufacturer globally, there is a good chance your organization either uses Dell servers already or is considering adding one (or more) to your data center. Dell is a very well-known, trusted brand (ranked #87 in the BrandFinance Global 500) and its PowerEdge rack-mounted servers can be found in volume within data centers around the world. As a result of their market leadership, it’s no surprise that their servers are prevalent throughout F5’s customer base. To help users optimally deploy and configure their BIG-IP Virtual Editions (VEs) on Dell servers, F5 has decided to extensively test BIG-IP VE running on the Dell PowerEdge R650™ platform and document the results and recommendations.

BIG-IP VE has long been an important piece of F5’s suite of solutions, in part because you don’t need purpose-built F5 hardware to operate this powerful, yet agnostic, solution. With BIG-IP VE, the entire BIG-IP family of products—covering application availability, access control, and security solutions—is available for use on a wide range of cloud platforms, hypervisors, and hardware.

This capability has always been advantageous to IT departments, but under current conditions, when procurement must be as flexible as possible, having the option to virtually deploy BIG-IP on a range of servers is more important than ever. As F5’s Tom Atkins (Senior Product Marketing Manager) recently wrote, “Unlike physical appliances, BIG-IP VE licenses have no associated supply chain, manufacturing, or shipping dependencies. Put simply, VEs can be operationalized on the same day as your purchase—helping trim your deployment timeline from weeks to hours.” (It is also worth noting that, during these trying times, we received our Dell servers only four weeks after ordering them!)

Of course, none of this is new: BIG-IP VE has been around for about a decade and is much-loved for the fact it is one of the highest performing vADCs on the market, it is cloud agnostic, it can be deployed on-premises or in a public and/or hybrid cloud environment, and is available via a wide range of licensing options. What is new is how we’re working hard to provide an additional level of detail around how the BIG-IP virtual machine performs on some of today’s most-used servers. In a nutshell, we’re documenting precisely how BIG-IP VE provides the most flexible platform and we’re detailing the steps required to configure your VMware ESXi™ hosts and F5 BIG-IP VEs to deliver enhanced performance.

BIG-IP on Dell: A Force for Customer Choice

ITPro has judged the Dell PowerEdge R650 to be “a great combination of high-performance CPUs, expansion potential, and storage features,” and as such many enterprise users find it to be an excellent platform for BIG-IP VE. To help these users get the most out of their deployments, F5 recently acquired some of these popular servers to install, configure, and operate BIG-IP VE software—and to report on our findings as they relate to performance and how to get the most out of this powerful hardware and software combination.

For this project, and for future explorations with other leading manufacturers’ servers, we’ve performed three distinct tests to develop our recommendations for setting up this specific hardware/software combination. Those are:

  1. Out of the box. For this evaluation, we onboarded similar to our customers’ experience: we took our newly delivered Dell PowerEdge R650 servers and installed BIG-IP VE using the standard and well-documented installation instructions that have been around for years. This simply involved loading an .ova image of BIG-IP VE to the server which achieved a standard BIG-IP VE set-up. There were no additional modifications or adjustments.
  2. Adapted for VMware ESXi. A component of VMware vSphere™, VMware ESXi (formerly ESX™) is a widely used, enterprise-class type‑1 hypervisor for deploying and serving virtual computers. We tested BIG-IP at application and network load with a range of adjustments to the PowerEdge R650 server and how it supports ESXi 7. We did not change how the network adaptor interacts with the BIG-IP VE (we kept the network adaptor in the default vmxnet3 mode).
  3. Adapted for VMware ESXi using SR-IOV mode. Building on the previous tests, here we continued our use of ESXi but changed the default vmxnet3 mode to SR-IOV mode, enabling the isolation of PCI Express resources, which in turn impacts manageability and performance.

F5’s customers are delivering more applications today than ever before, requiring higher bandwidth and throughput even as they battle shrinking IT budgets and work to reduce (or at least maintain) the size of their data centers in many cases. When combined and tuned appropriately, the industry-leading BIG-IP VE can achieve high levels of throughput in a single VE operating on any number of popular server platforms. Now, we’re showing you our benchmarks and suggestions for getting the most out of BIG-IP VE on Dell PowerEdge R650 servers, but in the coming weeks and months, we’ll be expanding this program to deliver optimization recommendations for additional server manufacturers as well. We'll encourage you to take a look at our series of articles on our technical community site to discover the steps required to configure your VMware ESXi hosts and F5 BIG-IP VEs for high-performance workloads on your Dell server and more. Stay tuned as we dig into additional servers and share further details.

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