Mindcraft Performance Reports

Setting the Record Straight:
Where ABCnews.com Got It Right and Wrong

By Bruce Weiner

May 4, 1999


In an April 28, 1999 article entitled "Microsoft's Muddled OS Test," ABCnews.com presented a biased report with innuendos impugning my honesty and Mindcraft's reputation. We want to set the record straight with this rebuttal. Unfortunately, it takes more words to right a wrong than it does to make someone look wrong, so please bear with me.

What's Right

Mr. Martinez had several points right in his article:

  • Mindcraft did the tests stated in the article under contract with Microsoft.
  • Our tests showed Windows NT Server 4.0 and IIS 4 were faster than Linux, Apache, and Samba on the same computer.
  • We certainly do know the depth of passion the Open Source community has for its favorite software. We have been inundated with email, most of it containing language that ABCnews.com would not publish at its Web site. It amazes me that Open Source proponents must resort to such crude language when disagreeing with a benchmark report. The reality they delivered was much worse than what any reasonable person would expect.
  • We did make mistakes in tuning Linux, Apache, and Samba. We wouldn't have made those mistakes if performance tuning information had been readily available. For instance, if PC Week or Jeremy Allison had published the tuning information they used, we would have used the same ones as well.
The Linux community will gain a real benefit from our benchmark report - a new Linux performance documentation project was created in response to our reporting a lack of such documentation.

What's Wrong

Unfortunately, Mr. Martinez made two egregious mistakes: he got important facts wrong and he failed to check the information his sources provided. Beyond those mistakes, Mr. Martinez's biased article used innuendo and misquotes to defame my personal reputation and Mindcraft's. The following sections show the details that support my assertions.

Wrong Facts

  • Tuning Windows NT Server as we document takes less than 10 minutes, not "a great deal of time" as Mr. Martinez states.

  • The article incorrectly implies that the tunes used for Windows NT Server are not generally available. They can be found at Microsoft's Web site. They are now also available for any one to use at our Web site.

  • Mr. Martinez printed only part of the answer I gave him about the response to a newsgroup posting about tuning Linux on the server we were testing. What he did not publish was that I told him the response said we would see much better performance with FreeBSD than Linux. It's obvious why he didn't publish that part.

  • The ABCnews.com article quotes Linus Torvalds as saying, "We helped them out, gave them a few more things to tune, but they wouldn't let us in the lab, and they wouldn't answer our follow-up questions." He's correct that we didn't let him into the lab. We couldn't because the work was being done in a lab at Microsoft. There's more on this topic under the "Attacks on Reputation" heading below.

  • Linus was wrong about our not answering his follow-up questions. He and his experts gave us a lot of tunes they wanted us to make. We got version 1.0 of the MegaRAID driver during our tests and used it. We sent out our Apache and Samba configuration files for review and received approval of them before we tested. (We actually got better performance in Apache when we made some changes to the approved configuration file on our own). Whenever we got poor performance we sent a description of out how the system was set up and the performance we were measuring. We received excellent support from the group of experts Linus put us in contact with ("the experts"). Red Hat also provided excellent support via email and on the phone. The experts and Red Hat told us what to check out, offered tuning changes, and provided patches to try. We had several rounds of messages between us in which we answered the questions they posed.

Comparing the performance of a resource-constrained desktop PC with an enterprise-class server is like saying a go-kart beat a grand prix race car on a go-kart race course.
  • The article quotes Linus as saying, "In many of the other, independent tests we've seen, Linux just beat the hell out of NT." The article goes on to claim, "Testing by PC Week last month seems to back him up." It's not clear as to which PC Week story he's referring. Is it the February 1, 1999 article about Linux being enterprise-ready? Is it the January 25, 1999 Smart Reseller article? The March 15, 1999 PC Week article with no benchmarks in it? The only Linux test PC Week lists in its reviews directory is the February 1, 1999 article. But that article does not include any Web server tests and was not published in March. Mr. Martinez must have his sources wrong. The only recent article that I could find at the ZDnet.com Web site that tested both Linux and Windows NT Web and file servers was the January 25, 1999 Smart Reseller article. It tested performance on a resource-constrained 266 MHz desktop  PC. One cannot reasonably extrapolate the performance of a resource-constrained desktop PC to an unconstrained, enterprise-class server with four 400 MHz Xeon processors.

    If Mr. Martinez or Linus is referring to the February 1, 1999 PC Week article, it contains no comparison with Windows NT Server. It only compares the Linux 2.0 kernel with the Linux 2.2 kernel.

    Mr. Martinez refers to a non-existent PC Week article.


Unchecked Sources

Mr. Martinez failed to consider that his Linux sources may be spreading the FUD instead of Mindcraft. His sources have a large personal stake in Linux and are paid by companies that also have a lot riding on Linux. So they certainly have a motive for generating FUD. Here are a few points that you should consider as you seek the truth:

  • Jeremy Allison, who is the Samba maintainer, believes that if we do another benchmark with his help, "...this doesn't mean Linux will neccessarily [sic] win, (it doesn't when serving Win95 clients here in my lab, although it does when serving NT clients)..." You can see this for yourself at the end of a Linux Today article.

  • Jeremy's statement in that Linux Today article that "It is a shame that they [Mindcraft] cannot reproduce the PC Week Linux numbers ..." shows a lack of understanding of the NetBench benchmark. If he looked at the NetBench documentation , he would find a very significant reason why Mindcraft's measured Samba performance was lower:

    We used 133 MHz Pentium clients while Jeremy and PC Week used faster clients, although we don't know how much faster because neither documented that. We believe that PC Week uses clients running with at least a 266 MHz Pentium II CPU. Because they use clients that are twice as fast and because so much of the NetBench measurements are affected by the clients, this can account for most of the difference in reported measurements

"You can only compare results if you used the same testbed each time you ran that test suite." Understanding and Using NetBench 5.01

    In addition, the following testbed and server differences add to the measured performance variances:

    1. Mindcraft used a server with 400 MHz Xeon processors while PC Week used one with 450 MHz Xeon processors. Jeremy did not disclose what speed processor he was using.

    2. Mindcraft used a server with a MegaRAID controller with a beta driver (which was the latest version available at the time of the test) while the PC Week server used an eXtremeRAID controller with a fully released driver. The MegaRAID driver was single threaded while the eXtremeRAID driver was multi-threaded.

    3. Mindcraft used Windows 9x clients while Jeremy and PC Week used Windows NT clients. According to Jeremy, he gets faster performance with Windows NT clients than with Windows 9x clients.

    Given these differences in the testbeds and servers, is it any wonder we got lower performance than they did? If you scale up our numbers to account for their speed advantage, we get essentially the same results.

  • The only reason to use Windows NT clients is to give Linux and Samba an advantage, if you believe Jeremy. In the real world, there are many more Windows 9x clients connected to file servers than Windows NT clients. So benchmarks that use Windows NT clients are unrealistic and should be viewed as benchmark-special configurations.

  • Jeremy did provide me with tuning parameters for Linux and Samba for the NetBench tests. Did he give me the same ones he uses and that he applied for the PC Week tests? I hope so. After all, the tunes he used for PC Week should be portable to a server as similar as the one we used. But I don't know for sure whether the tunes were the same as the ones PC Week used because they didn't publish theirs. Mindcraft published the tunings we made for our tests because we have nothing to hide.

  • The fact that Jeremy did not publish the details of the testbed he used and the tunes he applied to Linux and Samba is a violation of the NetBench license. If he had published the tunes he used, we would have tried them. What's the big secret?

Attacks on Reputation

The obvious assumptions for Mr. Martinez's need to defame my reputation and Mindcraft's are that he must somehow justify his biased and unfounded position, he is trying to attack Microsoft by attacking Mindcraft, or that he his trying to gain favor with Linux proponents. I had expected more from a reputable organization like ABCnews.com. His attacks as well as biased and inaccurate reporting call into question the fairness and accuracy of all reports at ABCnews.com.

  • The rhetorical question Mr. Martinez asks, "Was this a valid test, skeptics wonder, or an attempt to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD, in tech parlance) about Linux?" implies that our tests were biased and that Mindcraft reported a lie because Microsoft paid for the test. This is the most damaging insult and attack in the whole article. Mr. Martinez cannot back up implications with facts because they are unfounded. He did no research with Mindcraft's clients to find out about us.

    No Mindcraft client has ever asked us to deliver a report that lied or misrepresented a test. On the contrary, all of our clients ask us to get the best performance for their product and for their competitor's products. If a client ever asked us to rig a test, to lie about test results, or to misrepresent test results, we would decline to do the work.

    Next time Mr. Martinez writes a story about Mindcraft he should consider our background. Mindcraft has been in business for over 14 years doing various kinds of testing. For example, from May 1, 1991 through September 30, 1998 Mindcraft was accredited as a POSIX Testing Laboratory by the National Voluntary Laboratory Program (NVLAP), part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST ). During that time, Mindcraft did more  POSIX FIPS certifications than all other POSIX labs combined. All of those tests were paid for by the client seeking certification. NIST saw no conflict of interest in our being paid by the company seeking certification and NIST reviewed and validated each test result we submitted. We apply the same honesty to our performance testing that we do for our conformance testing. To do otherwise would be foolish and would put us out of business quickly.

    Some may ask why we decided not to renew our NVLAP accreditation. The reason is simple, NIST stopped its POSIX FIPS certification program on December 31, 1997. That program was picked up by the IEEE and on November 7, 1997 the IEEE announced that they recognized Mindcraft as an Accredited POSIX Testing Laboratory. We still are IEEE accredited and are still certifying systems for POSIX FIPS conformance.

  • Mr. Martinez slams Mindcraft when he writes, "Torvalds notes that previous comparisons run by Mindcraft for Microsoft showed similar results against other operating systems, such as Sun's Solaris and Netware." So what? Are they wrong? Are they biased? No. Novell, for example, had no complaints when we did a benchmark for them.

    Mindcraft works much like a CPA hired by a company to audit its books. We give an independent, impartial assessment based on our testing. Like a CPA we're paid by our client. NVLAP approved test labs that measure everything from asbestos to the accuracy of scales are paid by their clients. This is a common practice. If Linus, Jeremy, or ABCnews.com would like to hire Mindcraft to test Linux, Samba, or Apache against Windows NT, Solaris, or any other operating system, we'd be glad to do work. But we can't guarantee that Linux will be faster than a competitive OS. We can guarantee that we will do a fair and impartial test. We've got no axes to grind.

  • Mr. Martinez incorrectly attributes me with questioning the testing methods PC Week used. I know that PC Week uses appropriate test methods. I made that clear to Mr. Martinez when he tried to put the words he wrote into my mouth during our phone interview. What I told him was that it was a shame that PC Week does not publish the test information that the NetBench license requires Mindcraft and others to publish. If they had, we would have used their Samba configuration.

  • It is a gross and biasing statement for Mr. Martinez to write "...e-mail from Weiner and other Mindcraft testers originates at a numerical IP address that belongs not to Mindcraft, but to Microsoft." All email from me to the Linux experts did not originate at a Microsoft IP address. Only email sent when I was conducting the tests did. There were at least 11 messages between me and the Linux experts before the retest started that originated from Mindcraft.

  • Mr. Martinez tries to imply that something is wrong with Mindcraft's tests because they were done in a Microsoft lab. You should know that Mindcraft verified the clients were set up as documented in our report and that Mindcraft, not Microsoft, loaded the server software and tuned it as documented in our report. In essence, we took over the lab we were using and verified it was set up fairly.

  • Mr. Martinez states in his article that Mindcraft did not return calls seeking comments on our company's relationship with Microsoft. He's wrong. He left one voice mail message that did not state the purpose of his call. I returned the call as soon as I picked up his message and left a voice mail message telling how to reach me via my cell phone. He is the one who never returned my call. Why make it look like Mindcraft had something to hide unless he is the one who is biased.

What's Fair

Considering the defamatory misrepresentations and bias in Mr. Martinez's article, we believe that ABCnews.com should take the following actions in fairness to Mindcraft and its readers:

  1. Remove the article from its Web site and put an apology in its place. If you do not do that, at least provide a link to this rebuttal at the top of the article so that your readers can get both sides of the story.

  2. Provide fair coverage from an unbiased reporter of Mindcraft's Open Benchmark of Windows NT Server and Linux. For this benchmark, we have invited Linus Torvalds, Jeremy Allison, Red Hat, and other Linux experts to tune Linux, Apache, and Samba and to witness all tests. We have also invited Microsoft to tune Windows NT and to witness the tests. Mindcraft will participate in this benchmark at its own expense.


NetBench Documentation

The NetBench document entitled Understanding and Using NetBench 5.01 states on page 24, " You can only compare results if you used the same testbed each time you ran that test suite [emphasis added]."

Understanding and Using NetBench 5.01 clearly gives another reason why the performance measurements Mindcraft reported are so different than the ones Jeremy and PC Week found. Look what's stated on page 236, "Client-side caching occurs when the client is able to place some or all of the test workspace into its local RAM, which it then uses as a file cache. When the client caches these test files, the client can satisfy locally requests that normally require a network access. Because a client's RAM can handle a request many times faster than it takes that same request to traverse the LAN, the client's throughput scores show a definite rise over scores when no client-side caching occurs. In fact, the client's throughput numbers with client-side caching can increase to levels that are two to three times faster than is possible given the physical speed of the particular network [emphasis added]."



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