Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Elizabeth White, Jason Bloomberg, Scott Allen, Pat Romanski, JP Morgenthal

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Open Source Cloud, @CloudExpo

Containers Expo Blog: Article

Considerations for SSD Deployments

SSD is a great technology, but your best value from it will come when you deploy it most efficiently

Legacy storage architectures do not perform very efficiently in virtual computing environments. The very random, very write-intensive I/O patterns generated by virtual hosts drive storage costs up as enterprises either add spindles or look to newer storage technologies like solid state disk (SSD) to address the IOPS shortfall.

SSD costs are coming down, but they are still significantly higher than spinning disk costs. When enterprises do consider SSD, how it is used and where it is placed in the virtual infrastructure can make a big difference in how much enterprises have to spend to meet their performance requirements. It can also impose certain operational limitations that may or may not be issues in specific environments.

Some of the key considerations that need to be taken into account are SSD placement (in the host or in the SAN), high availability/failover requirements, caching vs logging architectures, and the value of preserving existing investments vs rip and replace investments that promise storage hardware specifically designed for virtual environments.

SSD Placement
There are two basic locations to place SSD, each of which offers its own pros and cons. Host-based SSD will generally offer the lowest storage latencies, particularly if the SSD is located on PCIe cards. In non-clustered environments where it is clear that IOPS and storage latencies are the key performance problems, these types of devices can be very valuable. In most cases, they will remove storage as the performance problem.

But don't necessarily expect that in your environment, these devices will deliver their rated IOPS directly to your applications. In removing storage as the bottleneck, system performance will now be determined by whatever the next bottleneck in the system is. That could be CPU, memory, operating system, or any number of other potential issues. This phenomenon is referred to as Amdahl's Law.

What you probably care about are application IOPS. Test the devices you're considering in your environment before purchase, so you know exactly the level of performance gain they will provide to you. Then you can make a more informed decision about whether or not you can cost justify them for use with your workloads. Paying for performance you can't use is like buying a Ferrari for use on America's interstate system - you may never get out of second gear.

Raw SSD technology generally can provide blazingly fast read performance. Write performance, however, varies depending on whether you are writing randomly or sequentially. The raw technical specs on many SSD devices indicate that sequential write performance may be half that of read performance, and random write performance may be half again as slow. Write latencies may also not be deterministic because of how SSD devices manage the space they are writing to. Many SSD vendors are combining software and other infrastructure around their SSD devices to address some of these issues. If you're looking at SSD, look to the software it's packaged with to make sure the SSD capacity you're buying can be used most efficiently.

Host-based SSD introduces failover limitations. If you have implemented a product like VMware HA in your environment to automatically recover failed nodes, any data sitting in a host-based SSD device that has not been written through to shared storage will not be available on recovery. This can lead to data loss on recovery - something that may or may not be an issue in your environment. Even though SSD is non-volatile storage, if the node it is sitting in is down, you can't get to it. You can get to it after that node is recovered, but the issue here is whether or not you can automatically fail over and have access to it.

Because of this issue, most host-based SSD products implement what is called a "write-through" cache, which means that they don't acknowledge writes at SSD latencies, they actually write them through to shared disk and then send the write acknowledgement back from there. Anything on shared disk can be potentially recovered by any other node in the cluster, ensuring that no committed data is unavailable on failover. But what this means is that you won't get any write performance improvements from SSD, just better read performance.

What does your workload look like in terms of read vs write percentages? Most virtual environments are very write intensive, much more so than they ever were in physical environments, and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments can be as much as 90% writes when operating in steady state mode. If write performance is your problem, host-based SSD with a write-through cache may not help very much in the big picture.

SAN-based SSD, on the other hand, can support failover without data loss, and if implemented with a write-back cache can provide write performance speedups as well. But many implementations available for use with SAN arrays are really only designed to speed up reads. Check carefully as you consider SSD to understand how it is implemented, and how well that maps to the actual performance requirements in your environment.

Caching vs Logging Architectures
Most SSD, wherever it is implemented, is used as a cache. Sizing guidelines for caches start with the cache as a percentage of the back-end storage it is front-ending. Generally the cache needs to be somewhere between 3% to 6% of the back-end storage, so larger data store capacities require larger caches. For example, 20TB of back-end data might require 1TB of SSD cache (5%).

Caches are generally just speeding up reads, but if you are working with a write-back cache, then the cache will have to be split between SSD capacity used to speed up reads and SSD capacity used to speed up writes. Everything else being equal in terms of performance requirements, write-back caches will have to be larger than write-through caches, but will provide more balanced performance gains (across both reads and writes).

Logging architectures, by definition, speed up writes, making them a good fit for write-intensive workloads like those found in virtual computing environments. Logs provide write performance gains by taking the very random workload and essentially removing the randomness from it by writing it sequentially to a log, acknowledging the writes from there, then asynchronously de-staging them to a shared storage pool. This means that the same SSD device used in a log vs used in a cache will be faster, assuming some randomness to the workload. The write performance the guest VMs see is the performance of the log device operating in sequential write mode almost all the time, and it can result in write performance improvements of up to 10x (relative to that same device operating in the random mode it would normally be operating in). And a log provides write performance improvements for all writes from all VMs all the time. (What's also interesting is that if you are getting 10x the IOPS from your current spinning disk, given Amdahl's Law, you may not even need to purchase SSD to remove storage as the performance bottleneck.)

Logs are very small (10GB or so) and are dedicated to a host, while the shared storage pool is accessible to all nodes in a cluster and primarily handles read requests. In a 20 node cluster with 20TB of shared data, you would need 200GB for the logs (10GB x 20 hosts) vs the 1TB you would need if SSD was used as a cache. Logs are much more efficient than caches for write performance improvements, resulting in lower costs.

If logs are located on SAN-based SSD, you not only get the write performance improvements, but this design fully supports node failover without data loss, a very nice differentiator from write-through cache implementations.

But what about read performance? This is where caches excel, and a write log doesn't seem to address that. That's true, and why it's important to combine a logging architecture with storage tiering. Any SSD capacity not used by the logs can be configured into a fast tier 0, which will provide the read performance improvements for any data residing in that tier. The bottom line here is that you can get better overall storage performance improvements from a "log + tiering" design than you can from a cache design while using 50% - 90% less high performance device (in this case, SSD) capacity. In our example above, if you buy a 256GB SAN-based SSD device and use it in a 20 node cluster, you'll get SSD sequential write performance for every write all the time, and have 56GB left over to put into a tier 0. Compare that to buying 1TB+ of cache capacity at SSD prices.

With single image management technology like linked clones or other similar implementations, you can lock your VM templates into this tier, and very efficiently gain read performance improvements against the shared blocks in those templates for all child VMs all the time. Single image management technology can help make the use of SSD capacity more efficient in either a cache or a log architecture, so don't overlook it as long as it is implemented in a way that does not impinge upon your storage performance.

Purpose-Built Storage Hardware
There are some interesting new array designs that leverage SSD, sometimes in combination with some of the other technologies mentioned above (log architectures, storage tiering, single image manage-ment, spinning disk). Designed specifically with the storage performance issues in virtual environments in mind, there is no doubt that these arrays can outperform legacy arrays. But for most enterprises, that may not be the operative question.

It's rare that an enterprise doesn't already have a sizable investment in storage. Many of these existing arrays support SSD, which can be deployed in a SAN-based cache or fast tier. It's much easier, and potentially much less disruptive and expensive if existing storage investments could be leveraged to address the storage performance issues in virtual environments. It's also less risky, since most of the hot new "virtual computing-aware" arrays and appliances are built by startups, not proven vendors. If there are pure software-based options to consider that support heterogeneous storage hardware and can address the storage issues common in virtual computing environments, allowing you to potentially take advantage of SSD capacity that fits into your current arrays, this could be a simpler, more cost-effective, and less risky option than buying from a storage startup. But only, of course, if it adequately resolves your performance problem.

The Take-Away
If there's one point you should take away from this article, it's that just blindly throwing SSD at a storage performance problem in virtual computing environments is not going to be a very efficient or cost-effective way to address your particular issues. Consider how much more performance you need, whether you need it on reads, writes, or both, whether you need to failover without data loss, and whether preserving existing storage hardware investments is important to you. SSD is a great technology, but your best value from it will come when you deploy it most efficiently.

More Stories By Eric Burgener

Eric Burgener is vice president product management at Virsto Software. He has worked on emerging technologies for almost his entire career, with early stints at pioneering companies such as Tandem, Pyramid, Sun, Veritas, ConvergeNet, Mendocino, and Topio, among others, on fault tolerance and high availability, replication, backup, continuous data protection, and server virtualization technologies.

Over the last 25 years Eric has worked across a variety of functional areas, including sales, product management, marketing, business development, and technical support, and also spent time as an Executive in Residence with Mayfield and a storage industry analyst at Taneja Group. Before joining Virsto, he was VP of Marketing at InMage.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can support cloud-based workloads previously not possible for high-throughput insurance, banking, and case-based applications. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman of Alfresco, described how to scale cloud-based content management repositories to store, manage, and retrieve billions of documents and related information with fast and linear scalability. He addres...
Adding public cloud resources to an existing application can be a daunting process. The tools that you currently use to manage the software and hardware outside the cloud aren’t always the best tools to efficiently grow into the cloud. All of the major configuration management tools have cloud orchestration plugins that can be leveraged, but there are also cloud-native tools that can dramatically improve the efficiency of managing your application lifecycle. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, ...
It’s 2016: buildings are smart, connected and the IoT is fundamentally altering how control and operating systems work and speak to each other. Platforms across the enterprise are networked via inexpensive sensors to collect massive amounts of data for analytics, information management, and insights that can be used to continuously improve operations. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Chemel, Co-Founder and CTO of Digital Lumens, will explore: The benefits sensor-networked systems bring to ...
When building large, cloud-based applications that operate at a high scale, it’s important to maintain a high availability and resilience to failures. In order to do that, you must be tolerant of failures, even in light of failures in other areas of your application. “Fly two mistakes high” is an old adage in the radio control airplane hobby. It means, fly high enough so that if you make a mistake, you can continue flying with room to still make mistakes. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee...
Large scale deployments present unique planning challenges, system commissioning hurdles between IT and OT and demand careful system hand-off orchestration. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Smith, Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, will discuss some of the key tactics to ensure delivery success based on his experience of the last two years deploying Industrial IoT systems across four continents.
Much of IT terminology is often misused and misapplied. Modernization and transformation are two such terms. They are often used interchangeably even though they mean different things and have very different connotations. Indeed, it is somewhat safe to assume that in IT any transformative effort is likely to also have a modernizing effect, and thus, we can see these as levels of improvement efforts. However, many businesses are being led to believe if they don’t transform now they risk becoming ...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
"Tintri was started in 2008 with the express purpose of building a storage appliance that is ideal for virtualized environments. We support a lot of different hypervisor platforms from VMware to OpenStack to Hyper-V," explained Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
SaaS companies can greatly expand revenue potential by pushing beyond their own borders. The challenge is how to do this without degrading service quality. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Adam Rogers, Managing Director at Anexia, discussed how IaaS providers with a global presence and both virtual and dedicated infrastructure can help companies expand their service footprint with low “go-to-market” costs.
"Avere Systems is a hybrid cloud solution provider. We have customers that want to use cloud storage and we have customers that want to take advantage of cloud compute," explained Rebecca Thompson, VP of Marketing at Avere Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? You need to discover patterns that are repeatable in vast quantities of data, understand their meaning, and implement scalable monitoring across multiple data streams in order to monetize the discoveries and insights. Motif discovery and deep learning platforms are emerging to visualize sensor data, to search for patterns and to build application that can monitor real time streams efficiently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, ...
Ovum, a leading technology analyst firm, has published an in-depth report, Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a DevOps Release Management Solution, 2016–17. The report focuses on the automation aspects of DevOps, Release Management and compares solutions from the leading vendors.
"This week we're really focusing on scalability, asset preservation and how do you back up to the cloud and in the cloud with object storage, which is really a new way of attacking dealing with your file, your blocked data, where you put it and how you access it," stated Jeff Greenwald, Senior Director of Market Development at HGST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
When it comes to cloud computing, the ability to turn massive amounts of compute cores on and off on demand sounds attractive to IT staff, who need to manage peaks and valleys in user activity. With cloud bursting, the majority of the data can stay on premises while tapping into compute from public cloud providers, reducing risk and minimizing need to move large files. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Scott Jeschonek, Director of Product Management at Avere Systems, discussed the IT and busin...
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...