Answer (ATE)

How to add flash to arrays for improved Tier 0 performance

I've heard mixed messages about deploying SSDs. On one hand, some say that you will see a performance increase if you put flash into an existing array for a high-performance Tier 0. Others say that doesn't really work and the array needs to be designed specifically for SSDs. What do you think?

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There are really two questions in this question. The first is, will a user always see a performance increase when SSDs are added to an existing array as Tier 0 storage or caching in the array? The answer is no, not always. Applications that require primarily sequential reads and writes will most likely see limited to no performance improvement over HDDs.

The second question is whether or not SSD arrays must be architected for SSD performance to experience significant performance improvement. Putting SSDs into an array not architected to maximize the performance gains will most likely see substantial performance gains. However, the rest of the array's architecture will likely limit those gains by shifting the performance bottleneck. Instead of the HDDs being the performance bottleneck, it will shift to the back end of the array (I/O between the array's CPU and SSDs) or the CPU's storage bus, or even the CPU itself. There is no free lunch.

An array architected from the ground up specifically for SSD performance gains looks holistically at the entire array's performance architecture to optimize end-to-end performance. The downside is that these arrays lack the significant production maturity that only comes with time.

There is no single, best choice. It will come down to application requirements in performance, cost, data protection, DR and more. In many cases, implementing SSDs within a current generation array is good enough. In others, it is not.

This was first published in September 2012

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