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Benchmark Results: Enterprise Performance

Intel SSD 710 Tested: MLC NAND Flash Hits The Enterprise

Take note, enterprise customers: the successor to Intel's vaunted X25-E is here, and it doesn't center on SLC flash. Instead, the company is turning toward High Endurance Technology MLC. We dig deep to find out what this means for speed and reliability.

You'll see periods of low activity in any type of workload, even in enterprise applications. However, more so in data centers than desktop workstations it's safe to expect random access with a large number of outstanding I/O operations.

In random reads, the SSD 710 offers similar performance to the 320, even at higher queue depths.

Writes are another story, though. Once we move to a queue depth of four (effectively 16, since we're using four workers), the SSD 710 starts to pull ahead of the 320. But, at best, it's only able to achieve a 20-30% lead. Obviously, that's not enough to match the speed of SATA 6Gb/s SSDs, which makes sense since Intel's proprietary controller is a 3 Gb/s device.

Why does the SSD 710 appear to outperform the SSD 320 when its write spec is supposed to be less aggressive? In enterprise-class applications, the system always writes random data to the entire LBA space, since the SSD has a tendency to be empty (consider the drive used as a cache). As the LBA space increases, random write performance drops because the controller needs to perform more disk operations, such as garbage collection, to maintain health and performance. Conversely, consumer drives are at least partially filled with persistent data, which is why performance is measured in a fixed LBA space. However, we're testing relative performance, so the LBA test space is fixed to just 16 GB.

Subjected to a database workload, the SSD 710 offers better performance than its consumer-oriented counterpart, but speeds are still relatively (and understandably) poor compared to competing SATA 6Gb/s-based SSDs. When we stripe two 710s, performance improves, though not linearly. At best, performance in RAID 0 still falls short of SLC-based SSDs like the P300.

The file server profile employs a more read-heavy workload, which is why the 710 scales better in RAID. However, this is also an area where most SATA 6Gb/s SSDs really shine.

This is particularly evident at the extreme end, where the Vertex 3 hits ~33 000 IOPS. That's 5000 IOPS higher than two 710s in RAID. Though the Vertex 3 isn't directly comparable here, the Vertex 3 Pro would be, and it performs very similarly. That drive still has to prove itself in an enterprise environment, though. When we surveyed data centers for Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than A Hard Drive?, all of them were running Intel drives. Intel is unquestionably the incumbent in a competition that puts reliability on a higher pillar than raw speed.

The Web server profile is similar to the previous file server workload. It's composed of 100% reads and gives more weight to smaller transfer sizes. As a result, we finally see a case where a pair of 710s in RAID 0 can surpass the SLC-based P300 and speedy Vertex 3. However, this only occurs at queue depths higher than 16. In a single-drive configuration, the SSD 710 only leads the 320 by a small margin.

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