The last few years have seen the end of computing performance doubling every two years, the so called Moore’s Law. Advances by the likes of processor makers Intel have slowed as they have run out of the ability to fit twice as many logic units onto the same size of chip just by shrinking each one to half the size. The days of the nineties when computers got more powerful faster than we could dream up uses for that power are n ow long gone.
While the need for extra power at most desktops isn’t vast the servers are doing more and more and at Technology Management we have particularly seen SQL servers struggle to keep up with ever more transactions and data year on year from modern ERP and CRM software.
In reality though it hasn’t been the processors that have been the bottleneck, its the storage subsystems that have not been able to cope at peak times. Data volumes are now routinely in the tens of gigabytes for a single database and combined with the requirement to update and enquire in in ‘real time’ we have ended up with systems that in some cases have twenty plus expensive fast hard drives connected to very powerful dedicated controllers packed with cache memory.
So today for the first time I had the opportunity to try a new type of server disk drive that rather than using a spinning disk of copper to store data, uses memory chips of an advanced type similar to the chips in the USB flash memory keys we are all familiar with these days. Called Solid State Drives (SSD’s for short) its only recently these have been suitable for installing in servers, coping with the continuous high read and write rates that servers have as opposed to even desktop or laptop PC’s.
And wow was it fast! That very noticeable fast sensation that I last remember from the 90’s when the lastest Intel processor come out. When I benchmarked it doing some typical ERP transactions, it was at least 25% and up to 40% faster than even a high performance traditional drive. Its very long time since I’ve seen that type of performance gain simply from a hardware upgrade.
Cost isn’t a lot more than the high performance 15k SAS drives we fit in high end servers now but the downside is you only get 160Gb for that instead of 300Gb.
So a couple of these fitted to your SQL Server (using RAID across the two to protect your data against failure) and used for the database tables that get the most hits such as contact records, sales orders, production orders etc would seem to enable a substantial performance and scalability boost at a reasonable cost. We’ll put this to the test on a high transaction count system and report back soon.