Free Space to the Rescue

There’s not much we can do about the scenario I just described; you can’t erase individual pages, that’s the reality of NAND-flash. There are some things we can do to make it better though.

The most frequently used approach is to under provision the drive. Let’s say we only shipped our drive with 20KB of space to the end user, but we actually had 24KB of flash on the drive. The remaining 4KB could be used by our controller; how, you say?

In the scenario from the last page we had to write 12KB of data to our drive, but we only had 8KB in free pages and a 4KB invalid page. In order to write the 12KB we had to perform a read-modify-write which took over twice as long as a 12KB write should take.

If we had an extra 4KB of space our 12KB write from earlier could’ve proceeded without a problem. Take a look at how it would’ve worked:

We’d write 8KB to the user-facing flash, and then the remaining 4KB would get written to the overflow flash. Our write speed would still be 12KB/s and everything would be right in the world.

Now if we deleted and tried to write 4KB of data however, we’d run into the same problem again. We’re simply delaying the inevitable by shipping our drive with an extra 4KB of space.

The more spare-area we ship with, the longer our performance will remain at its peak level. But again, you have to pay the piper at some point.

Intel ships its X25-M with 7.5 - 8% more area than is actually reported to the OS. The more expensive enterprise version ships with the same amount of flash, but even more spare area. Random writes all over the drive are more likely in a server environment so Intel keeps more of the flash on the X25-E as spare area. You’re able to do this yourself if you own an X25-M; simply perform a secure erase and immediately partition the drive smaller than its actual capacity. The controller will use the unpartitioned space as spare area.

Understanding the SSD Performance Degradation Problem The Trim Command: Coming Soon to a Drive Near You
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    How do these drives fail? I have heard that they will just suddenly die, no more writes or reads possible. What I would like to know is what happens when it dies? Do you lose all data? Just can't write anymore? How does the OS respond? Any early warnings? What about e.g. CRC? How does possibility of data corruption compare to traditional SSD? What about RAID? Since the drives are electrical, not mechanical, this reduces the number of failure vectors and environmental concerns (e.g., ambient temperature over lifetime of the drive). Won't SSDs therefore fail closer together in time in a RAID configuration? This reduces the window of opportunity for fixing an array and also decreases the applicability of RAID, however marginal.
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