The introduction of "enterprise SATA" disks a few years ago was an excellent solution for all the companies craving storage space. With capacities up to 1TB per drive, "RAID Enabled" SATA disks offer huge amounts of magnetic disk space with decent reliability. Magnetic disks have been a very cheap solution if you want storage space, with prices at 20 cents per gigabyte (and falling). Performance is terrible, however, with seek times and latency adding a few milliseconds over faster and more expensive alternatives (i.e. SCSI). That's 10,000 to 100,000 times slower than the speed of CPUs and RAM, where access times are expressed in nanoseconds. Even worse is the fact that seek times and latency have been improving at an incredibly slow pace. According to several studies[1], the time (seek time + latency) to get one block of random information has only improved by a factor 2.5 over the last decade while bandwidth has been improved a tenfold. Meanwhile, CPUs have become over 60 times faster! (As a quick point of reference, ten years ago state-of-the-art servers were running 450MHz Xeon processors with up to 2MB of L2 cache.)

The result of this lopsided performance improvements is a serious performance bottleneck, especially for OLTP databases and mail servers that are accessed randomly. A complex combination of application caches, RAID controller caches, hard disk caches, and RAID setups can partially hide the terrible performance shortcomings of the current hard disks, but note the word "partially". Caches will not always contain the right data and it has taken a lot of research and software engineering to develop database management systems that produce many independent parallel I/O threads. Without a good I/O thread system you would not even be able to use RAID setups to increase disk performance.

Let's face it: buying, installing, and powering lots of fast spinning disks just to meet the Monday morning spike on mail servers and transactional applications is frequently a waste of disk space, power, and thus money. In addition, it's not just hard disk space and power that make this a rather expensive and inefficient way to solve the ancient disk seek time problem: you need a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Source) to protect all those disks from power failures, plus expensive software and man-hours to manage all those disks. The Intel X25-E, an SLC SSD drive, holds the potential to run OLTP applications at decent speeds much simpler. Through a deep analysis of its low level and real world performance, we try to find out when this new generation of SSDs will make sense. Prepare for an interesting if complex story….

Disk strategies
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  • marraco - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    The comparison is not fair, but can be fairer:

    If the RAID of SATA/SAS disks is restricted to the same storage capacity than the SSD, limiting the partition to the fastest external tracks/cilynders, the latency is significantly reduced, and average read/write speed is significantly increased, so


    Repeat the benchmarcks, but with short stroking for magnetic disks.
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, March 27, 2009 - link

    May I ask what the difference with the fact that we created a relatively small partition across our RAID-5 raidset? Also, you can imagine that our 23 GB database was at the outer tracks of the disks. I have to verify, but that seems logical.

    This kind of testing should give the same effects as short stroking. I personally think Short stroking can not be good for your actuator, while a small partition should be no problem.
  • marraco - Friday, March 27, 2009 - link

    See this link.">

    Clearly, you results are orders of magnitude than those showed on that benchmark.

    As I understand, short stroking increase actuator health, because reduces physical acceleration on the actuator.

    Anything necessary, is to use a small partition on the fastest external track.

    you utilized a raid 0 of 16 disks, with less than 1000 gb/second.

    On Tomshardware, a raid of only 4 disk achieved average (not maximun) 1400 to 1600 Mb/s. (of course, the test are not the same; for that reason, I ask for new test)

    About the RAID 5: I would love to see RAID 0.

    I are interesed on comparing a fast SSD as the intels, (or OCZ Vostro/Summit), with what can be achieved at the same cost, with magnetic media, if the partition size is restricted to the same total capacity than the SSD.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. Good work.

    So good, I want to see more :)
  • marraco - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    Please, tell me you are preparing such article :)
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    We are investigating the issue. I like to have some second opinions before I start heavy benchmarking on THG article. They tend to be sensational...
  • araczynski - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    wow, color me impressed. all the more reason to upgrade everything to gigabit and fiber.
  • BailoutBenny - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    Can we get any updates on the future of chalcogenide glass (phase change) based drive technologies? IBM's Millipede and other MEMS probe storage devices? Any word about Intel and STMicroelectronics' shipments of PRAM samples to customers that happened last year? What do the rumor mills say? Are these technologies proving viable? It is difficult to formulate a coherent picture for these technologies without being an industry insider.
  • Black Jacque - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    RAID 5 in Action

    ... However, it is rarely if ever used for any serious application.

    You are obviously not a SAN Admin or know too much about enterprise level storage.

    RAID 5 is the mainstay of block-level storage systems by companies like EMC.

    In addition, the article mentions STEC EFDs used by EMC. On the EMC CLARiiON line, those EFDs are provisioned in RAID 5 groups.

  • spikespiegal - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    [quote]RAID 5 is the mainstay of block-level storage systems by companies like EMC. [/quote]

    Which thus explains why in this day in age I see so many SANs blowing entire volumes and costing days of restoration when the room temp gets a few degrees above ambient.

    Corrupted RAID 5 arrays have cost me more lost enterprise data than all the non-RAID client side disks I've ever replaced; iSeries, all brands of x386, etc. EMC has a great script to account for this in which they always blame the drives first, then only when cornered by an enraged CIO will they admit it's their controllers. Been there...done that...for over a decade in many different industries.

    If you haven't been burned by RAID 5, or dare claim a drive controller in RAID 5 mode has a better MTBF than the drives it's hosting, then it's time to quite your day job at the call center in India. RAID 5 saves you the cost of one drive every four, which was logical in 1998 but not today. At least span across multiple redundant controllers in RAID 10 or something....
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    I fear you misread that sentence:

    "RAID 0 is good way to see how adding more disks scales up your writing and reading performance. However, it is rarely if ever used for any serious application."

    So we are talking about RAID-0 not RAID-5.">

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