4 Ways To Improve Performance of Your Existing Storage Systems

Here is what you can do to boost both the performance and amount of storage available in your enterprise.

I'm willing to bet that there are a good number of people that are in this position: You have made major investments in your storage infrastructure over the years, but you need to eke more performance out of it in order to meet new business needs. There are a bunch of different ways that organizations can boost storage performance, with options available at all points in the pricing spectrum.

Throw Hardware at the Problem
Today I gave a presentation to a group of people about data center infrastructure and I asked the group if anyone had ever just thrown their hands up and added hardware in a last-ditch attempt to solve a vexing performance problem. A few hands went up. This approach is a time-tested one and is easy, although it can be expensive. It basically involves adding more hard disks to the existing storage in order to add IOPS. It's really a legacy way to address the storage issue, but, in a pinch, it can be effective.

Software-Based Acceleration
Today, there are vendors that have built software tools intended to help companies solve some of their most vexing storage performance challenges. Here's the way that these tools work: In a virtual environment, they carve out a small chunk of RAM on the virtual host and all I/O is redirected through that chunk of RAM. This process is repeated on each host and the resulting memory is pooled from across all of the virtual hosts to create a global cache that can be accessed by any of the hosts. Since many environments use a lot of the same data all the time, this hot data is captured in the cache and is then read from RAM when a virtual machine requests it rather than having to be read from disk. The result is a pretty impressive performance gain for relatively little money. These software add-ins aren't that expensive and 8GB of RAM isn't much to give up when the alternative might be to have to buy a bunch of solid state disks or buy an expensive shelf of hard disks.

It's important to note that these acceleration solutions do have some specific requirements and won't yet work in every single environment, but for those that have the right environment, they can be a very low cost way to improve storage performance.

Add Some Flash
Obviously, solid state storage is the king of the hill when it comes to raw performance, so it's no surprise that adding some solid state storage to an existing environment would improve overall performance of the system as a whole. In general, PCI-e-based sold state storage devices are leveraged for this purpose. They are installed inside a host machine and configured as a mega cache for the SAN. With a large cache at its disposal, a server can much more quickly read and write data from and to storage. The ultra-fast cache acts as the intermediary in this case so that the server itself doesn't have to deal with constantly slow reads and writes from the legacy storage environment. This solution is not low cost, though.

Short Stroke
While this method isn't as common as it once was, for organizations that rely upon traditional hard disks, it may help boost performance. If you take a look at a hard disk, you'll notice that it's comprised of platters with read/write heads that float on a thin layer of air above these platters. Poor performance comes into play when the read/write heads have to constantly traverse the entire width of the disk platter in a quest to read or write data. Short stroking involves formatting only the outer tracks of a hard disk so that the read/write heads don't need to travel as far. This will boost overall IOPS and reduce latency, but the tradeoff is that you can only use a part of the disk's capacity. As such, much of the disk's capacity goes to waste.

Storage performance is incredibly important in the modern enterprise and it can be difficult to achieve. These are just four ways that storage performance can be boosted. What are some ways that you've made your own storage faster?

About the Author

Scott D. Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of The 1610 Group, a strategic and tactical IT consulting firm based in the Midwest. Scott has been in the IT field for close to 20 years and spent 10 of those years in filling the CIO role for various organizations. He's also either authored or co-authored four books and is the creator of 10 video training courses for TrainSignal.


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