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Flash technology for the enterprise

In today’s modern and fast paced society, it appears to be all about how quickly and efficiently you can get the tasks at hand done. So, this begs the question, how fast are your applications performing?

Is it time to look at your application infrastructure or your database and make changes? Have you budgeted and are you prepared to rip and replace your infrastructure to make a change?

Would you like to make a smaller more incremental change and recognize a greater potential return on that performance investment?

Well, if you are ready to make a change and yearning for greater performance for your applications, then maybe it is time to look at flash technologies.

Today’s flash technologies come in many forms, and from many vendors. Basically they look and act like modern storage solutions, but perform much closer to memory speeds than disk speeds. For the enterprise customer, there are three major flash technologies worth looking at. They each have their pros and cons to implementation and performance. Let’s take look at them and some of their basic characteristics.

Solid State Disk (SSD)

SSD’s have been around for several years and are one of the easiest forms to implement. Many servers and storage systems allow for hot swap and most SSD’s can therefore be swapped into a live system. SSD uses flash memory packaged into a 2.5″ or 3.5″ enclosure along with a controller to present itself as a SAS or SATA drive. Placing files on one of these drives can create an immediate performance increase either in IOPS or available throughput. As a rule of thumb, a 15k RPM drive can support ~185 IOPS and ~200MB of random/sequential performance. A SSD is around ~20,000 IOPS and ~400MB of random/ sequential performance.

Put a database file or log here and you can have instant potential performance gains.

PCIe

Another implementation of flash technology comes in the form of PCIe cards that get installed into the physical server. Depending on the manufacturer, you can have cards sized in the Terabyte range. 8TB implementations are not out of reach. Much like the SSD, these cards can present themselves as single or as multiple disks. It takes a little more work to install and set up one of these cards, but the density benefits and tuned controller can provide greater performance and management benefits to the applications.

Trying one of these cards can give you random IOPS performance well into the hundreds of thousands and sequential transfer rates well into the Gigabytes.

Flash Array

Lastly, flash memory configured into a purpose built storage enclosure would be a flash array. These arrays can provide capacities into the 10′s of Terabyte range, configurations of 20TB and above in a 3U enclosure are not unheard of. These arrays are generally the most high-performing implementations, since the entire storage array is built around flash memory and the performance characteristics of flash, dedicated tuned controllers and RAID implementations are common here.

These devices still present themselves as disk LUNS and can be directly attached or on a SAN. Interconnects such as SAS, Fiber Channel, iSCSI and infiniband are common in this space. 1,000,000 IOPS and 6GB transfer rates can be achieved. With the capacities capable in this space, entire databases and application storage needs can be housed in these arrays, providing tremendous performance benefits.

Conclusions

If your applications are starting to slow down or you are seeing IO performance bottlenecks in your infrastructure, maybe it is now time to bring some of these technologies into your environment and kick the tires. I think you will like what you see.

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