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.


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


Intel H67 Motherboard


Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel + 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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  • ssj4Gogeta - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    I think what you're forgetting here is that the 90% or 100% figures are _including_ the extra work that an SSD has to do for writing on already used blocks. That doesn't mean the data is incompressible; it means it's quite compressible.
    For example, if the SF drive compresses the data to 0.3x its original size, then including all the extra work that has to be done, the final value comes out to be 0.9x. The other drives would directly write the data and have an amplification of 3x.
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    No, not at all. The other SSDs have a WA of about 1.1 when writing the same data.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Haha yes I do :) These SSDs were all deployed in actual systems, replacing other SSDs or hard drives. At the end of the study we looked at write amplification. The shortest use case was around 2 months I believe and the longest was 8 months of use.

    This wasn't simulated, these were actual primary use systems that we monitored over months.

    Take care,
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Indeed. I was the "winner" with the highest write amplification due to the fact that I had large compressed archives regularly residing on my Vertex 2, and even then as Anand notes the write amplification was below 1.0.
  • jwilliams4200 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    And still you dodge my question.

    If the Sandforce controller can achieve decent compression, why did it not do better than the Intel 320 in the endurance test in this article?

    I think the answer is that your "8 month study" is invalid.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    SandForce can achieve decent compression, but not across all workloads. Our study was limited to client workloads as these were all primary use desktops/notebooks. The benchmarks here were derived from enterprise workloads and some tasks on our own servers.

    It's all workload dependent, but to say that SandForce is incapable of low write amplification in any environment is incorrect.

    Take care,
  • jwilliams4200 - Friday, February 10, 2012 - link

    If we look at the three "workloads" discussed in this thread:

    (1) anandtech "enterprise workload"

    (2) client-workload obtained by using data actually found on user drives and writing it (mostly sequential) to a Sandforce 2281 SSD

    (3) anandtech "8 month" client study

    we find that two out of three show that Sandforce cannot achieve decent compression on realistic data.

    I think you should repeat your "client workload" tests and be more careful with tracking exactly what is being written. I suspect there was a flaw in your study. Either benchmarks were run that you were not aware of, or else it could be something like frequent hibernation where a lot of empty RAM is being dumped to SSD. I can believe Sandforce can achieve a decent compression ratio on unused RAM! :)
  • RGrizzzz - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    What the heck is your site doing where you're writing that much data? Does that include the Anandtech forums, or just
  • extide - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    Probably logs requests and browser info and whatnot.
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    That most likely includes the CMS and a large amount of the content, the Ad system, our users accounts for commenting here, all the Bench data, etc.

    The forums would use their own vBulletin database. But most likely run on the same servers.

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