Although solid-state disk prices have dropped, the drives can still cost up to 10 times more per gigabyte than a hard disk. So rather than outright replacing a hard disk or a storage system with an SSD, administrators may prefer to use the SSD as a cache to speed storage performance.
SanDisk's FlashSoft software fits the bill. The product transforms any standard SSD into a high-speed cache that accelerates input/output traffic to boost performance and reduce latency.
We tested FlashSoft for Windows 3.2 on SanDisk's Lightning Enterprise Solid State Accelerator (SSA), a PCI Express card that takes advantage of the PCIe bus throughput of up to 16 gigabytes per second to deliver as much as 400 megabytes per second, per card.
FlashSoft takes advantage of the performance increase available from an SSD to accelerate a server's existing storage. In testing, the solution increased the number of input/output operations per second by about 300 percent to 400 percent. The product also dramatically reduced latency, or the time to fulfill storage requests. Maximum response times dropped from more than three seconds with the hard disk alone to under two-tenths of a second with the SSA and FlashSoft enabled.
By intercepting data before it is sent to or read from the hard disk, the SSD can feed data to the CPU faster than existing storage. The FlashSoft software reads ahead to predict what the server will want next and moves that data from the hard disk or networked storage to the SSD, boosting speed and reducing latency when that next piece of data is called for.
If IT administrators were to install a new SSD array, they'd need to create a new volume, move data to that volume and reconfigure applications. But installing FlashSoft is a simple endeavor. After a minimal amount of configuration, the system begins to accelerate all storage attached to the server. There's no need to create new volumes or decide what data needs to be moved to the faster drives — FlashSoft does this in the background.
317% Percentage improvement in SQL database transactions per minute using SanDisk SSA and FlashSoft
SOURCE: "FlashSoft/SanDisk SQL Server Performance Enhancement" (SanDisk)
Because the solution is used only for caching, organizations can get by with a much smaller SSD than if they were to move the entire data set to SSD. The performance gain may not equate to an extremely fast all-flash array, but this solution provides 80 percent of the performance for 20 percent of the price.
IT managers may worry about adding the FlashSoft driver to their hardware, but our testing didn't show any system degradation or conflicts with other software. Still, maximizing the software's capabilities requires a really fast drive, and some administrators may lack a PCIe slot or the 12GBps version of SATA or SAS to support a fast drive on a standard connection.