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Status report: Solid-state storage

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Software is key to performance, longevity

Most solid-state storage vendors would agree that software is critical to the performance of their storage devices. LSI offers its MegaRAID CacheCade 2.0 software, designed to optimize both reads and writes by managing writes to specific blocks. CacheCade complements LSI’s MegaRAID SSD controller cards for use with SSD devices or arrays.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. similarly points to its data location algorithm for optimizing solid-state performance in its 3PAR arrays. The company touts this optimization algorithm for its ability to avoid the gradual performance degradation that may occur otherwise. Other vendors, such as Avere Systems Inc. and NetApp Inc. use non-volatile random access memory (NVRAM) to buffer and manage write operations, all of which is managed by their own proprietary software to find the appropriate write path.

IO Turbine Inc., which was recently acquired by Fusion-io, developed Accelio software that allows SSDs to be provisioned across VMware virtual machines (VMs). The VMs can use Accelio to share SSD or other flash storage. Accelio can be used with virtually any SSD/flash product and supports VMware vMotion functionality.

Use cases for solid-state storage

Database performance enhancement. Most storage managers recognize that SSD offers blazingly fast read operations, making it ideal for database environments with read-intensive applications.

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In this scenario, the database indexes are typically loaded into SSD or flash storage for quick lookups followed by accessing the HDDs to fetch the actual data. However, with the increasing size and affordability of solid-state storage devices, some organizations are finding it possible to load an entire database into the SSD, which significantly speeds up all database functions.

Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel in Jackson, Calif., has been testing database performance with a combination of Dell EqualLogic arrays, Fusion-io PCIe-based solid-state storage and IO Turbine’s Accelio software. (Jackson Rancheria is a beta test site for Accelio.) The casino has a 300 GB Microsoft SQL Server database supporting its gaming operations, which is a read-intensive app. Approximately 80% of the servers are virtualized using VMware ESX.

Shane Liptrap, senior systems engineer at Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel, reports excellent test results. “Initial setup of the Accelio software only took about an hour and was similar to creating VMware resource pools,” he said. “We saw a definite improvement in performance. Using Accelio with a 150 GB Fusion-io SSD, our read latency dropped 60%. Using a 320 GB Fusion-io flash card, it dropped 90%.” This configuration took the load off the SAN and Liptrap expects to see better reliability and failover in addition to better response time as the configuration is moved into production.

Cache tier. Several vendors are increasingly adding solid-state storage to their arrays as a “cache tier.” Although this is also referred to as tier 0, the lines between a distinct storage tier and cache are increasingly blurred. NetApp, in particular, is taking this approach, with the added twist of applying data deduplication to its Flash Cache. NetApp claims deduplication can improve capacity utilization by up to 10-to-1. VM images in Flash Cache can be improved by 3-to-1 or 4-to-1. Adding deduplication instantly improves the economics of adding Flash Cache to a configuration.

This was first published in October 2011

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