Confusing Mellanox Windows PerfMon Counters


So you start out doing SMB Direct. Maybe you’re doing RoCE, if so there’s a good chance you’ll be using the excellent Mellanox cards. You studied hard, read a lot and put some real effort into setting it up. The SMB Direct / DCB configuration is how you think it should be and things are working as expected.

Curious as you are you want to find out if you can see Priority Flow Control work. Well, the easiest way to do so is by using the Windows Performance Monitor counters that Mellanox provides.

Confusing Mellanox Windows PerfMon Counters

So you take your first look at the Mellanox Adaptor QoS Perfmon counters for ConnectX series for SMB Direct (RDMA) traffic. When you want to see what’s happening in regards to pause frames that have been sent and received and what pause duration was requested from the receiving hop (or received from the sending hop) you can get confused. The naming is a bit counter intuitive.


The Rcv Pause duration is not the duration requested by the pause frames the host received, but by the pause frames that host sent. Likewise, the Sent Pause duration is not the duration requested by the pause frames the host send, but by the pause frames that host received.


So you might end up wondering why your host sends pause frames but to only see the Rcv Pause duration go up. Now you know why Smile.

Now there were plans to fix this in WinOF 4.95. The original release note made mention of this and this made me quite happy as most people are confused enough when it comes to RDMA/RoCE/DCB configurations as it is.

A screenshot of the change in the original Mellanox WinOF VPI Release Notes revision 4.95


Unfortunately, this did not happen. It was removed in a newer version of these release notes. My guess is it could have been a breaking chance of some sort if a lot of tooling or automation is expecting these counter names.

I still remember how puzzled I looked at the counters which to me didn’t make sense and the tedious labor of empirical testing to figure out that the wording was a bit “less than optimal”.

But look, once you know this you just need to keep it in mind. For now, we’ll have to live with some confusing Mellanox Windows PerfMon counter names. At least I hope I have saved you the confusion and time I went through when first starting with these Mellanox counters. Other than that I can only say that you should not be discouraged as they have been and are a great tool in checking RoCE DCB/PFC configs.

Musings On Switch Embedded Teaming, SMB Direct and QoS in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V

When you have been reading up on what’s new in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V networking you probably read about Switch Embedded Teaming (SET). Basically this takes the concept of teaming and has this done by the vSwitch. Which means you don’t have to team at the host level. The big benefit that this opens up is the RDMA can be leveraged on vNICs. With host based teaming the RDMA capabilities of your NICs are no longer exposed, i.e. you can’t leverage RDMA. Now this has become possible and that’s pretty big.


With the rise of 10, 25, 40, 50 and 100 Gbps NICs and switches the lure to go fully converged becomes even louder. Given the fact that we now don’t lose RDMA capabilities to the vNICs exposed to the host that call sounds only louder to many.  But wait, there’s even more to lure us to a fully converged solution, the fact that we now do no longer lose RSS on those vNICs! All good news.

I have written an entire whitepaper on convergence and it benefits, drawback, risks & rewards. I will not repeat all that here. One point I need to make that lossless traffic and QoS are paramount to the success of fully converged networking. After all we don’t want lossy storage traffic and we need to assure adequate bandwidth for all our types of traffic. For now, in Technical Preview 3 we have support for Software Defined Networking (SDN) QoS.

What does that mean in regards to what we already use today? There is no support for native QoS  and vSwitch QoS in Windows Server 2016 TPv3. There is however the  mention of DCB (PFC/ETS ), which is hardware QoS in the TechNet docs on Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) and Switch Embedded Teaming (SET). Cool!

But wait a minute. When we look at all kinds of traffic in a converged Hyper-V environment we see CSV (storage traffic), live migration (all variations), backups over SMB3 all potentially leveraging SMB Direct. Due to the features and capabilities in SMB3 I like that. Don’t get me wrong about that. But it also worries me a bit when it comes to handling QoS on the hardware side of things.

In DCB Priority Flow Control (PFC) is the lossless part, Enhanced Transmission Selection (ETS) is the minimum bandwidth QoS part. But how do we leverage ETS when all types of traffic use SMB Direct. On the host it all gets tagged with the same priority. ETS works by tagging different priorities to different workloads and assuring minimal bandwidths out of a total of 100% without reserving it for a workload if it doesn’t need it. Here’s a blog post on ETS with a demo video DCB ETS Demo with SMB Direct over RoCE (RDMA .

Does this mean a SDN QoS only approach to deal with the various type of SMB Direct traffic or do they have some aces up their sleeves?

This isn’t a new “concern” I have but with SET and the sustained push for convergence it does has the potential to become an issue. We already have the SMB bandwidth limitation feature for live migration. That what is used to prevent LM starving CSV traffic when needed. See Preventing Live Migration Over SMB Starving CSV Traffic in Windows Server 2012 R2 with Set-SmbBandwidthLimit.

Now in real life I have rarely, if ever, seen a hard need for this. But it’s there to make sure you have something when needed. It hasn’t caused me issues yet, but I’m a performance & scale first, in “a non-economies of scale” world compared to hosters. As such convergence is a tool I use with moderation. My testing when traffic competes without ETS is that they all get part of the cake but not super predictable/ consistent. SMB bandwidth limitation is a bit of a “bolted on” solution => you can see the perf counters push down the bandwidth in an epic struggle to contain it, but as said it’s a struggle, not a nice flat line.

Also Set-SmbBandwidthLimit is not a percentage, but hard max bandwidth limit, so when you lose a SET member the math is off and you could be in trouble fast. Perhaps it’s these categories that could or will be used but it doesn’t seem like the most elegant solution/approach. That with ever more traffic leveraging SMB Direct make me ever more curious. Some switches offer up to 4 lossless queues now so perhaps that’s the way to go leveraging more priorities … Interesting stuff! My preferred and easiest QoS tool, get even bigger pipes, is an approach convergence and evolution of network needs keeps pushing over. Anyway, I’ll be very interested to see how this is dealt with. For now I’ll conclude my musings On Switch Embedded Teaming, SMB Direct and QoS in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V

DCB ETS Demo with SMB Direct over RoCE (RDMA)

It’s time to demonstrate ETS in action! There is a quick video on ETS on Vimeo to show what it look like.

I’m using Mellanox ConnectX-3 ethernet cards, in 2 node DELL PowerEdge R720 Hyper- cluster lab. We’ve configured the two ports for SMB Direct & set live migration to leverage them both over SMB Direct. For the purpose of this demo we’ll generate non RDMA over RoCE (TCP/IP) traffic over these two 10Gbps ports to simulate a problematic scenario where all bandwidth is already being used and to see how Enhanced Transmission Selection (ETS) will help in this scenario.  I have done this with DELL Force 10, PowerConnect 8100, N4000 series or a mix of both. This particular demo was leveraging PC8132Fs. I use what’s available to me in a lab at the time of writing.

To achieve the network load this we leverage ntttcp.exe to generate the non RDMA TCP/IP traffic. Using the Mellanox QoS counters we visualize this. In blue you see the sending traffic from node A, in red the receiving traffic on Node B. Note that this traffic is tagged with priority 1. We tag SMB Direct traffic with priority 4.


You can see that both Mellanox cards are running at full bandwidth, 2* 10Gbps from node A to node B and it’s all none RDMA traffic. Also note that I’m hitting all 16 physical cores (hyper threading is enabled). By doing so I avoid being bottlenecked by a singe core as in contrast to RDMA traffic there’s no huge CPU offload going on here.image

As these are the cards I have assigned to use for live migration (depending on the setup also  CSV or SOFS traffic) over SMB Direct you’ll see that the competition for bandwidth will be fierce if we don’t have a mechanism to guide this to a desired outcome. That’s exactly what we leverage DCB with PFC and ETS for.

So let’s kick off live migration of 4 virtual machines with 10GB of memory each. That should take about 20 seconds on 2 * 10Gbps cards. We first live migrate them form node B to Node A. That’s in the reverse direction of where we are sending TCP/IP traffic. You see 10Gbps being used all over and this is expected.


Remember that the network is full duplex. That means that you can send at 10Gbps (TCP/IP from node A to node B, RDMA from node B to A and vice versa) and receive at 10Gbps on a port. Actually if the backplane of the switch is powerful enough you can do so on all ports. So this is normal. Node A is sending TCP/IP traffic to node B at line speed and Node B is sending SMB Direct traffic to node A (the live migration) at line speed.

But what if we live migrate over SMB Direct in the same direction as the TCP/IP traffic is going, from node A to node B? Well have a look. To me this looks awesome.


ETS kicks in immediately. We configure the minimum bandwidth for SMB Direct Traffic to be 90%. Anything left after that (10%) is given to other traffic, in this demo the TCP/IP traffic we generated. As priority 4 tagged RoCE traffic is also configured to be lossless with PFC you don’t have to worry about dropping packets under contention. Now think about this and how you can steer your traffic behavior at times when the resources need to be divided amongst competing workloads.

I hope you now have a better idea on why QoS is useful, how it works and that it indeed does work. While I have taken the opportunity to demonstrate this with SMB Direct over RoCE I’d like to stress that QoS is not just about RoCE where it’s  “mandatory” due to the fact it requires at least PFC. It’s a very much a needed tool that’s very beneficial in any converged scenario and that the optional ETS might be a very good idea, depending on your environment.

Again, to get you a better idea, here’s a short, quick video on ETS on Vimeo.