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GCN : April 2014
a high number of IOPS and traditional spinning disks used for storage. Jason Smith, the IT specialist for the city of Oviedo, Fla., knows firsthand what happens when data centers that rely on traditional spinning disks fail, and how a hybrid system can save the day. "We have a fairly small data center and were in the process of upgrading our us- ers to a virtual desktop system to improve efficiency," Smith said. "We had 75 clients targeted for the VDI rollout, but we only got 20 deployed before we hit the wall. We started to get flooded with odd user complaints about frozen systems, black screens and slow performance. We had to scale back the program, put the desktops back on desks and figure out what was wrong." The problem for Oviedo was that it had used a vendor s calculations for how many IOPS each virtual desktop would need. That number was a little low, at just 50 IOPS per client, which might have worked in a normal situation. However, as Smith discovered, it did not take into account "boot storms" that occurred at the beginning of each day, the simultaneous installation of software, patches or workloads with multiple peo- ple performing needed tasks on a sched- ule. The performance needs were peak- ing out at over 3,000 IOPS, more than enough to overload the city s traditional disk-based storage area network, even though there was still plenty of actual storage capacity. "When we looked at our options, we were faced with having to put more spin- dles in place just to handle the IOPS needs of the VDI," Smith said. "Or we had to buy a much bigger SAN, which we didn t need for capacity, just performance." Smith estimated that a SAN big enough to handle the city s VDI needs would have cost between $60,000 and $75,000 be- fore cooling and power costs were even factored in. Instead, the city installed an ioControl hybrid system from Fusion-io. For about $50,000, Oviedo had well over the 3,000 IOPS required, thanks to flash drives pro- viding extra operations per second. The ioControl system uses traditional drives for storage, so the city doesn t have a capacity problem either. "We ve added a mail archive to the system, virtualized [Microsoft] Exchange, put our GIS on there and will soon be adding external Web services," Smith said. "And we no longer get complaining phone calls from users." • DATA CENTER TRADE-OFFS In the past, options for expanding capacity in government data centers were limited by traditional drives. "The big thing in government now is consolidation," said Christian Shrauder, federal CTO for Fusion-io. "But to build up the infrastructure required adding spindles for performance, not capacity." To avoid buying costly ash drives, most government data centers resorted to a process called short stroking, where only the outer edge of traditional disks were used, the fastest parts to access. And they were only used for their IOPS capacity, not necessarily their storage. But that wastes a lot of money. Here's how: Consider a government agency that needs to install a modest virtual desktop system. The requirements to support 35 users might be 100 IOPS per each thin client, for a total of 3,500 IOPS. The storage capacity needed for that group might only be 500 GB or so, but a working system is going to call for a lot more because of the IOPS requirement. Consider that two fast (15K RPM) spinning drives, each with 300G capacity, are needed to meet the storage requirement. Yet with each disk only able to provide 180 IOPS each, there would need to be 20 drives in the system to satisfy IOPS-related performance issues --- and that's with maximum optimization and management programs. That would also mean having 6 terabytes of storage packed into a system that only needs 500G of capacity, for which a huge disk array would need to be constructed. What's more, the government would be on the hook for buying the extra drives, and there would be additional ongoing costs to keep them all cool and powered. --- John Breeden II Can you spin your way to high-performance storage? You do the math