Wednesday, 21st August 2019
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Cracking the I/O-nut

Don't judge a system by its flash, judge it by its cache, says Dominik Mutterer, Field Applications Engineer, Avago Technologies.

Data centres looking for high IOPS often believe flash is the panacea for all of their problems. However, it's expensive, and some are guilty of using an oversized flash sledgehammer to crack the I/O nut.

The simple fact is that flash is most cost-effective when used intelligently rather than extensively. But even more can be achieved with less by using technologies such as intelligent caching software to provide a compelling alternative to a complete conversion to flash. Today’s workload-intensive business applications are often constrained by the performance limitations of their existing hard disk drives. Since applications are used in real-time, bottlenecks are noticed immediately and cause frustration for staff and customers alike.

To improve performance and negate some of the pitfalls of traditional HDD technology, flash technology is used to accelerate the data centre and improve IOPS. The marriage between HDDs and SSDs, however, is sometimes difficult and it can be hard to reap the expected benefits, namely the low price per gigabyte and vastly higher capacities of HDDs, and high performance of SSDs. Intelligent caching software can be an effective solution to unleash the performance of existing hard drive arrays with SSD-based flash cache.

Software features can add caching functionality

When IT pushes hard disk drive arrays to reach their IOPS potential, data hot spots become inevitable. To improve read/write speeds and drop latency, a small SSD can be used as a front-side flash cache for a much larger disk array. To add the necessary intelligence to dynamically keep the “hottest” data in flash memory and to push cold data on slow and inexpensive disks, intelligent caching software is needed.

Apart from the substantial improvement in performance for a minimal SSD investment, caching has several other advantages: Wasted capacity by short-stroking hard disk drives can be eliminated or reduced. And since the most commonly accessed data now resides on flash, the longevity of HDDs is extended by reducing wear.

Cost Effective Application Acceleration Across Business Critical Workloads

In many data centres, storage management and the assigning of business critical workloads to faster drives or even flash-drives is still handled manually. This requires constant monitoring and leads to regular bottlenecks when the chosen settings need to be amended. The result is far from ideal and it's expensive, with IT-staff devoting resource to moving data from different tiered drives when their time could be better utilised on value-add tasks. Software that intelligently and dynamically manages hot and cold data also lowers the total cost of storage ownership for data centres and small-to-medium businesses.

Advanced caching software offers both read and write controller-based caching on SSDs, dramatically enhancing the performance gains achieved by previous generations of caching software. With the addition of write caching support, read/write-intensive workloads such as Exchange server, high performance computing (HPC) applications, Web 2.0 and other I/O-intensive OLTP database system workloads, experience dramatic performance improvements.

Flash is here to stay and has already become a prominent part of many multi-tiered storage solutions. But the performance improvements flash offers come with a high price tag. To manage budgets wisely, storage-architects should use SSDs intelligently rather than extensively. Advanced caching software can help them to crack the I/O-nut with the flick of a finger and avoid the expensive flash sledgehammer.

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