Intel's SSD 520 in the Enterprise

I went through the basic premise of SandForce's controller architecture in our review of the 520. By integrating a real time data compression/deduplication engine in the data path of the controller, SandForce can reduce the number of physical writes it commits to NAND. It's an interesting way of combating the issue of finite NAND flash endurance. It works very well on desktop systems (BSOD issues aside), and for many enterprise workloads it should do similarly well. By writing less, you can get more endurance out of your NAND, making it an ideal technology for use in the enterprise where NAND endurance is more of a concern.

The limitations are serious however. You cannot further compress something that is already compressed and data sets that are truly random in makeup can't be compressed either. If your enterprise workload triggers either of these conditions, or if you're working with encrypted data, you're not going to get a big benefit from SandForce's technology.

There are still a lot of enterprise workloads (including portions of ours) that just revolve around reading and writing simple text (e.g. pages of a review, or tracking banner impressions). For these workloads, SandForce could do quite well.

Intel's SSDs have often been used in datacenter environments, including the consumer drives for reasons I've already described. Armed with a full set of Intel SSDs I put all of them through our newly created Enterprise SSD suite to see how well they performed.

Enterprise SSD Comparison
  Intel SSD 710 Intel X25-E Intel SSD 520 Intel SSD 320
Capacities 100 / 200 / 300GB 32 / 64GB 60 / 120 / 180 / 240 / 480GB 80 / 120 / 160 / 300 / 600GB
NAND 25nm HET MLC 50nm SLC 25nm MLC 25nm MLC
Max Sequential Performance (Reads/Writes) 270 / 210 MBps 250 / 170 MBps 550 / 520 MBps 270 / 220 MBps
Max Random Performance (Reads/Writes) 38.5K / 2.7K IOPS 35K / 3.3K IOPS 50K / Not Listed IOPS 39.5K / 600 IOPS
Endurance (Max Data Written) 500TB - 1.5PB 1 - 2PB Not Listed 5 - 60TB
Encryption AES-128 - AES-256 AES-128
Power Safe Write Cache Y N N Y
Temp Sensor Y N N N

It's worth pointing out that the Intel SSD 520 and 510 are both 6Gbps drives, while many servers deployed today still only support 3Gbps SATA. I've provided results for both 3Gbps and 6Gbps configurations to showcase the differences.

The Test

Note that although we debuted these tests in previous reviews, the results here aren't comparable due to some changes in the software build on the system.

CPU

Intel Core i7 2600K running at 3.4GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)

Motherboard:

Intel H67 Motherboard

Chipset:

Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2

Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Case Study: SSDs in AnandTech's Server Environment Enterprise Storage Bench - Oracle Swingbench
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  • jeremyshaw - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    woah... I've been waiting for an article like this for a long time.

    Thank you Anandtech!
    Reply
  • ckryan - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    Is AnandTech ever planning on doing a longer period SSD test? A long term testing scenario would make for interesting reading. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    Technically all of our SSD tests are long term. We're still testing Vertex 2 class drives and I actually still have six Intel X25-M G1s deployed in systems in my lab alone. You only hear about them when things go wrong. Most of the time I feed errors back to the vendors to get fixes put into firmware updates. The fact that you aren't seeing more of this sort of stuff means that things are working well :-P

    But the results of our long term tests directly impact our reviews/recommendations. It's one of the reasons I've been so positive on the Samsung SSD 830 lately. I've been using 830s 24/7 since our review published in September with very good results :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, February 09, 2012 - link

    I've had an X25-M G1 in my Macbook since 2009, used daily, never a problem. Lack of trim support doesn't really seem to matter unless you're the type the writes/deletes a lot of data. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    Since you found that the 520 does not really do any better than the 320 for endurance, does this also imply that the Sandforce controller was not able to achieve significant compression on the workload that you fed to it? In other words, Sandforce compression does not work very well on real data as opposed to artificial benchmark data. Reply
  • ckryan - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    SF is really good at compressing fake data. I suppose some logs could really benefit, but one of my personal SF drives has 10% more raw writes than host writes. I suspect I'm not alone with this either.

    People doing repeated incompressible benches could have WA higher than 1 with SF, but once you install the OS and and programs, every day writes are less compressible than promised it would seem.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - link

    Keep in mind that only 10% more NAND writes than host writes is *really* good. It's not uncommon to get much, much higher than that with other controllers.

    We did an 8 month study on SF drives internally. The highest write amp we saw was 0.7x. On my personal drive I saw a write amp of around 0.6x.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, February 09, 2012 - link

    Baloney!

    You just saw a write amplification of near 1 on this very article. Why do you dodge my question?
    Reply
  • erple2 - Thursday, February 09, 2012 - link

    I suspect that the workloads that they were testing for with the SF drives internally are not what is reflected in this article.

    That implies, then, that the SF drives have been doing other workloads like acting in desktops and/or laptop duties. For those kinds of things, I suspect that a 0.6-0.7x is more reasonable (assuming there isn't much reading/writing of incompressible data).

    Given that some of the workload may be for mobile applications, and given a strong focus on WDE for laptops, I wonder how that ultimately impacts the write amplification for drives with WDE on them.
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, February 09, 2012 - link

    The "8 month study" that he refers to is very hard to believe.

    Does he really expect us to believe that the people in Anand's test lab used these SSDs for 8 months and did not run any benchmarks on them?

    Most benchmarks write easily compressible data, and a lot of it.

    The real way to test the Sandforce compression is to write typical user data to the SSD and monitor the raw write and host write attributes. That experiment has already been done on xtremesystems.org, and the findings were that typical user data bare compresses at all -- at best raw writes were 90% of host writes, but for most data it was 100% or higher. The only thing that got some compression was the OS and application installs, and most people only do those once, so it should not be counted towards user data when estimating endurance.
    Reply

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