The Cleaning Lady and Write Amplification

Imagine you’re running a cafeteria. This is the real world and your cafeteria has a finite number of plates, say 200 for the entire cafeteria. Your cafeteria is open for dinner and over the course of the night you may serve a total of 1000 people. The number of guests outnumbers the total number of plates 5-to-1, thankfully they don’t all eat at once.

You’ve got a dishwasher who cleans the dirty dishes as the tables are bussed and then puts them in a pile of clean dishes for the servers to use as new diners arrive.

Pretty basic, right? That’s how an SSD works.

Remember the rules: you can read from and write to pages, but you must erase entire blocks at a time. If a block is full of invalid pages (files that have been overwritten at the file system level for example), it must be erased before it can be written to.

All SSDs have a dishwasher of sorts, except instead of cleaning dishes, its job is to clean NAND blocks and prep them for use. The cleaning algorithms don’t really kick in when the drive is new, but put a few days, weeks or months of use on the drive and cleaning will become a regular part of its routine.

Remember this picture?

It (roughly) describes what happens when you go to write a page of data to a block that’s full of both valid and invalid pages.

In actuality the write happens more like this. A new block is allocated, valid data is copied to the new block (including the data you wish to write), the old block is sent for cleaning and emerges completely wiped. The old block is added to the pool of empty blocks. As the controller needs them, blocks are pulled from this pool, used, and the old blocks are recycled in here.

IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory actually made a wonderful diagram of how this works, but it's a bit more complicated than I need it to be for my example here today so I've remade the diagram and simplified it a bit:

The diagram explains what I just outlined above. A write request comes in, a new block is allocated and used then added to the list of used blocks. The blocks with the least amount of valid data (or the most invalid data) are scheduled for garbage collection, cleaned and added to the free block pool.

We can actually see this in action if we look at write latencies:

Average write latencies for writing to an SSD, even with random data, are extremely low. But take a look at the max latencies:

While average latencies are very low, the max latencies are around 350x higher. They are still low compared to a mechanical hard disk, but what's going on to make the max latency so high? All of the cleaning and reorganization I've been talking about. It rarely makes a noticeable impact on performance (hence the ultra low average latencies), but this is an example of happening.

And this is where write amplification comes in.

In the diagram above we see another angle on what happens when a write comes in. A free block is used (when available) for the incoming write. That's not the only write that happens however, eventually you have to perform some garbage collection so you don't run out of free blocks. The block with the most invalid data is selected for cleaning; its data is copied to another block, after which the previous block is erased and added to the free block pool. In the diagram above you'll see the size of our write request on the left, but on the very right you'll see how much data was actually written when you take into account garbage collection. This inequality is called write amplification.


Intel claims very low write amplification on its drives, although over the lifespan of your drive a < 1.1 factor seems highly unlikely

The write amplification factor is the amount of data the SSD controller has to write in relation to the amount of data that the host controller wants to write. A write amplification factor of 1 is perfect, it means you wanted to write 1MB and the SSD’s controller wrote 1MB. A write amplification factor greater than 1 isn't desirable, but an unfortunate fact of life. The higher your write amplification, the quicker your drive will die and the lower its performance will be. Write amplification, bad.

Live Long and Prosper: The Logical Page Why SSDs Care About What You Write: Fragmentation & Write Combining
POST A COMMENT

296 Comments

View All Comments

  • rree - Wednesday, January 06, 2010 - link

    http://ecartshopping.biz">http://ecartshopping.biz

    Air jordan(1-24)shoes $33

    Nike shox(R4,NZ,OZ,TL1,TL2,TL3) $35
    Handbags(Coach lv fendi d&g) $35
    Tshirts (Polo ,ed hardy,lacoste) $16

    Jean(True Religion,ed hardy,coogi) $30
    Sunglasses(Oakey,coach,gucci,Armaini) $16
    New era cap $15

    Bikini (Ed hardy,polo) $25

    FREE sHIPPING
    http://ecartshopping.biz">http://ecartshopping.biz
    Reply
  • jengeek - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    As of 09-02-09 from Toshiba Direct:

    80GB = $243
    160GB = $473

    http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/adet.to?poid=4...">http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/adet.to?poid=4...

    http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/adet.to?poid=4...">http://www.toshibadirect.com/td/b2c/adet.to?poid=4...
    Reply
  • gfody - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    nice thank you, ordered mine from here
    screw Newegg! :D
    Reply
  • jengeek - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    Both are G2, in stock and ship the next day

    Both are retail box including the installation kit

    Best price I've found
    Reply
  • ARoyalF - Sunday, September 13, 2009 - link

    Thank you posting that!

    I was going to wait out that awful price hike over at the egg.

    You rock
    Reply
  • ElderTech - Tuesday, September 01, 2009 - link

    It's difficult to imagine the amount of time and effort that went into this article, Anand. Just the clean installs of Win7 took a fair amount of extra effort, let alone the other detailed diagrams and testing involved. From an old technology advocate over many years of working to keep pace with Moore's Law in a variety of research environments, your site provides the most satisfying learning experience of all. A sincere thank you!

    PS: As for the availability of the G2, it pops in and out of stock at a variety of online retailers, including Newegg, of course, as well as MWave. Both had it available for a short while at $249, Newegg on Friday and MWave today, Monday. However, it's out of stock presently as of midnight, EST 9-1-09 at both, with MWave still at $249 but Newegg going from there to $279 over the weekend and now at an amazing $499! OUCH. Sounds like supply and demand gouging if the price holds when they are next available! There is also some stock available in the distributor channel from small Intel Partners, as I confirmed by calling around the Chicago area. You might give this a try tomorrow. Good luck!
    Reply
  • blyndy - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    You really got performance anxiety because some high-profile people/sites liked your article and linked to it? It's hardly like it got printed in some prestigious science journal and the publishers are waiting on a follow-up.

    It was just the first time that SDD operation had been detailed in plain english from a reputable website.

    Enough of this 'anthology' nonsense, I don't care if it's 1 page or 20, just tell me how some of the new SSDs perform (eg OCZ, Western Digital). You've already detailed how they work so now I want to know which ones do/will support TRIM and some details on the controller. Nothing to get anxious about.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Indeed I did get performance anxiety after the last one, I even got it after the first X25-M. It's not so much the linkage, but the feedback from all of you guys. I received more positive feedback to the last SSD article than any one prior. More than anything I don't want to let you all down and I want to make sure I live up to everyone's expectations.

    As far as your interests go, all three manufacturers (Indilinx, Intel and Samsung) have confirmed support for TRIM. When? I'd say all three before December.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • cacca - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    Dear Anand i really thank you for your SSD articles, the improvements in this area seem tangible.
    Can I ask you to test Fusion-IO & ioXtreme, i am really curious to see how this other approach performs.
    I know that isn't a perfect apple to apple comparison but at least we could compare the per $ performance.

    Best regards

    Ca
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Good article.

    I have a follow-up question regarding your size suggestion.

    In more words you say, "get the size you need," but don't these drives perform that much better in a RAIDed system?

    The cost per GB isn't that much more if you're looking at getting a 160GB Intel drive, to get the 2x 80GB instead.

    SSDs are more reliable than HDs and you have the benefit of more RAM. 2x 32MB for an SSD in RAID0.


    Curious to hear your thoughts,
    vol7ron
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now