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Performance Over Time

Intel SSD 710 Tested: MLC NAND Flash Hits The Enterprise
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Take note, enterprise customers: the successor to Intel's vaunted X25-E is here, and it doesn't center on SLC flash. Instead, the company is turning toward High Endurance Technology MLC. We dig deep to find out what this means for speed and reliability.

According to the slide above, which we took from this year's Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, there are a handful of assumptions made about enterprise environments as they relate to desktops. Enterprise drives are available 24x7, they need to be evaluated after hitting steady-state performance, no down-time is accepted, and the consequences of a failure are catastrophic. 

When a drive is getting hit all day, every day, and it's operating at its steady-state point, performance needs to be both acceptable and predictable. If a server's workload is running for an extended period, it won't sit idle long enough for background garbage collection to move scattered pages into single blocks, restoring performance and reducing write amplification. Naturally, that's bad if the drive is unable to cope.

Clean Performance

Intel SSD 710: Clean PerformanceIntel SSD 710: Clean Performance

Intel SSD 320: Clean PerformanceIntel SSD 320: Clean Performance

Examining how a drive might perform over time isn't that difficult. First, we just have to fill up all user-accessible space using a sequential write, making the drive "dirty." Then, we subject it to a 4 KB random write with a queue depth of 32. Because the drive is full of data, though, garbage collection can't consolidate scattered pages into free blocks. When we start writing sequential data again, the effects of active garbage collection kick in.

Random Writes, 20 Min.

Intel SSD 710Intel SSD 710

Intel SSD 320Intel SSD 320

If the drive recovers quickly, you can be fairly certain that there's lots of active garbage collection going on.

When we subject the SSD 710 to 20 minutes of torturous random writes, we start to see small differences. Whereas the 320 employs foreground garbage collection over an extended period, the 710 has a tendency to perform a lot of garbage collection all at once. As a result, we only see one dip in performance, recovered from relatively quickly.

That's not the only difference, though. When you look at the 320's chart, it's apparent that some garbage collection even occurs during read operations. We get confirmation when we revisit the endurance test. After running the database profile for six hours, we see a higher write amplification value.

The SSD 710 doesn't do any garbage collection on reads, but its write amplification goes down as a result of the 40% over-provisioning, which decreases the amount of data rearrangement necessary to optimize performance.

Endurance Calculations
(Workload Counters)
Intel SSD 710
200 GB
Intel SSD 320
300 GB
4 KB 100% Random Write
QD= 32, 6 Hours
WA = 5.09
1437 TBW
WA = 2.75
132 TBW
Database 67% Random Reads
QD =32, 6 Hours
WA = 4.03
1818 TBW
WA  = 3.49
104 TBW


Perhaps all of those pretty pictures depicting performance up in the 100 MB/s range paint an overly optimistic picture of performance, though. Hammering the SSD 320 with 4 KB writes for 20 minutes still represents a fairly desktop-oriented workload. If we sustain that workload for hours, as you might see in an enterprise, random writes fall to as low as 20 MB/s. When we subject Intel's SSD 710 to an hour of random writes, its advantage over the desktop-oriented hardware becomes more clear.

Random Writes, 60 Min.

Intel SSD 710: 60 Minutes Random WriteIntel SSD 710: 60 Minutes Random Write            

Intel SSD 320: 60 Minutes of Random WriteIntel SSD 320: 60 Minutes of Random Write

According to Iometer, sequential read/write performance should be in the 175-200 MB/s range. Performance drops precipitously, though, as very little garbage collection occurs in real-time.

If we combine these results with our endurance test, we see that the 710 handles foreground garbage collection more adeptly, thanks in part to the large amount of over-provisioning. As a whole, this contributes to a minimum sequential write speed of 60 MB/s. In comparison, the 320 relies more on background garbage collection (particularly during reads) in order to recover performance.

After 30 Min. Idle

Intel SSD 710: After 30 Minutes of IdleIntel SSD 710: After 30 Minutes of Idle

Intel SSD 320: After 30 Minutes of IdleIntel SSD 320: After 30 Minutes of Idle

In either case, if you give the drives some idle time, performance recovers to a clean state, even without TRIM.

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  • -3 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , October 31, 2011 4:46 AM
    TLDR; Although expensive, the drives offer greater amounts of data transfer, reliability and expected life - however, they cost a f'ing arm and a leg (even for a corporation).

    Expect these to be the standard when they've dropped to 1/3rd their current price.
  • 4 Hide
    RazorBurn , October 31, 2011 6:48 AM
    To some companies or institutions.. The data this devices hold far outweighs the prices of this storage devices..
  • -3 Hide
    nekromobo , October 31, 2011 8:14 AM
    I think the writer missed the whole point on this article.

    What happens when you RAID5 or RAID1 the SSD's??
    I don't think any enterprise would trust a single SSD without RAID.
  • -2 Hide
    DjEaZy , October 31, 2011 8:29 AM
    ... glad, that i have vertex 3...
  • 0 Hide
    halcyon , October 31, 2011 10:04 AM
    Nice. Now let's see how many comments complain about the price. :sarcastic: 
  • 0 Hide
    halcyon , October 31, 2011 10:13 AM
    __-_-_-__with the reliability those have they will never ever find their way into any server

    My Vertex 3 has been very reliable and I'm quite satisfied with the performance. However, I've heard reports that some, just like with anything else, haven't been so lucky.
  • -2 Hide
    toms my babys daddy , October 31, 2011 11:50 AM
    I thought ssd drives were unreliable because they can die at any moment and lose your data, and now I see that they're used for servers as well? are they doing daily backups of their data or have I been lied to? ;(
  • 1 Hide
    halcyon , October 31, 2011 11:57 AM
    toms my babys daddyI thought ssd drives were unreliable because they can die at any moment and lose your data, and now I see that they're used for servers as well? are they doing daily backups of their data or have I been lied to? ;(

    SSDs are generally accepted to be more reliable than HDDs...at least that's what I've been lead to believe.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , October 31, 2011 12:33 PM
    halcyonSSDs are generally accepted to be more reliable than HDDs...at least that's what I've been lead to believe.

    Yes, but when they die, that's it; you're done. You can at least send a mechanical HDD to Ontrack (or a competing data recovery service) with a GOOD chance of getting most or all of your data back; when a SSD bricks, what can be done?
  • 2 Hide
    CaedenV , October 31, 2011 12:48 PM
    nekromoboI think the writer missed the whole point on this article.What happens when you RAID5 or RAID1 the SSD's??I don't think any enterprise would trust a single SSD without RAID.

    The assumption is that ALL servers will have raid. The point of this article is how often will you have to replace the drives in your raid? All of that down time, and manpower has a price. If the old Intel SSDs were about as reliable as a traditional HDD, then that means that these new ones will last ~30x what a traidional drive does, while providing that glorious 0ms seek time, and high IO output.
    Less replacement, less down time, less $/GB, and a similar performance is a big win in my book.
    toms my babys daddyI thought ssd drives were unreliable because they can die at any moment and lose your data, and now I see that they're used for servers as well? are they doing daily backups of their data or have I been lied to? ;(

    SSDs (at least on the enterprise level) are roughly equivalent to their mechanical brothers in failure rate. True, when the drive is done then the data is gone, but real data centers all use RAID, and backups for redundancy. Some go so far as to have all data being mirrored at 2 locations in real time, which is an extreme measure, but worth it when your data is so important.
    Besides, when a data center has to do a physical recovery of a HDD then they have already failed. The down time it takes to physically recover is unacceptable in many data centers. Though at least it is still an option.
  • 5 Hide
    CaedenV , October 31, 2011 12:52 PM
    Oh! I almost forgot; GREAT review Andrew! I learned a lot on this one.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 31, 2011 2:09 PM
    Lied to about what? And who are THEY? ... Life expectancy of SSD vs. Standard Harddrive? Thats always unknown, every unit is an animal unto itself. SSD's don't suffer mechanical issues however putting them ahead in my mind. Backups are determined by how much time you can afford to loose business-wise, how much data you have and how long it takes to recover to a point you backup at last. maybe your data is too valuable to have lost. In that case Mirror and even copy to a DR site, maybe even live. Best thing would probably be to trust your IT guy because you kinda seem lost :) 
  • 0 Hide
    halcyon , October 31, 2011 2:10 PM
    jtt283Yes, but when they die, that's it; you're done. You can at least send a mechanical HDD to Ontrack (or a competing data recovery service) with a GOOD chance of getting most or all of your data back; when a SSD bricks, what can be done?

    Its funny you mention that. Ontrack purports that they are quite adept at recovering SSDs.
  • -1 Hide
    mt2e , October 31, 2011 2:15 PM
    profit margins must be huge for a product with a simple memory swap
  • 0 Hide
    phate , October 31, 2011 7:04 PM
    So what's the difference between this and the P400e?
  • -2 Hide
    ruddenberg , October 31, 2011 7:40 PM
    Andrew Ku! Get the facts correct please !!!!

    Intel® SSD 710 Series 300/200/100GB
    Random Read (8GB Span) = no info
    Random Read (100% Span) = 38500/38500/38500 IOPS
    Random Write (8GB Span) = no info
    Random Write (100% Span) = 2000/2700/2300 IOPS

    Intel® SSD 320 Series 600/300/160/120/80GB
    Random Read (8GB Span) = 39500/39500/39000/38000/38000 IOPS
    Random Read (100% Span) = 39500/39500/39000/38000/38000 IOPS
    Random Write (8GB Span) = 23000/23000/21000/14000/10000 IOPS
    Random Write (100% Span) = 150/400/600/400/300 IOPS

  • -3 Hide
    cmartin011 , October 31, 2011 7:51 PM
    This is the best intel could come up with? i know reliability is important and all, but make the performance worth the price. at those dollar $ a much quicker PCI express solution could be afforded with some sorta redundant feature build in.
  • 1 Hide
    acku , October 31, 2011 9:16 PM
    ruddenbergAndrew Ku! Get the facts correct please !!!!Intel® SSD 710 Series 300/200/100GBRandom Read (8GB Span) = no infoRandom Read (100% Span) = 38500/38500/38500 IOPSRandom Write (8GB Span) = no infoRandom Write (100% Span) = 2000/2700/2300 IOPSIntel® SSD 320 Series 600/300/160/120/80GBRandom Read (8GB Span) = 39500/39500/39000/38000/38000 IOPSRandom Read (100% Span) = 39500/39500/39000/38000/38000 IOPSRandom Write (8GB Span) = 23000/23000/21000/14000/10000 IOPSRandom Write (100% Span) = 150/400/600/400/300 IOPS

    Read page 8. we covered that already.
  • 1 Hide
    campb292 , November 1, 2011 1:53 AM
    I find all the comments about data recovery very bizarre. What data would someone supposedly keep on a SSD (or HDD for that matter) that meets a threshold to warrant expensive data recovery in the event of failure, but not so sensitive to warrant a backup?

    My important info has a fresh original image and 2 daily backups that automatically create 12 hours apart. It takes about 5 minutes each and costs 29.99 a year. Come on people.
  • 0 Hide
    beenthere , November 1, 2011 1:55 AM
    This looks like more "experimenting" to see what enterprise will tolerate than a technical breakthrough. So far neither consumer grade nor the Intel 710 enterprise SSD impress me for performance, reliability and compatibility. It's certainly a painfully slow development on SSDs. Using consumers to beta test these drives is pretty unscrupulous IMO.
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