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Demartek Puts SSDs Into Production

11 January 2011

We have been testing SSD technology for quite a while in our lab, so I decided that it was time to put some SSDs into production at Demartek. Over the 2010 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we installed SSDs as boot drives in the desktop computers of all our staff, as well as in our production file server. At the same time, we upgraded the file server to Windows Server 2008 R2 from the previous version of Windows Server. We previously upgraded our desktop computers to Windows 7 (64-bit) back in November of 2009. We opted for the Corsair Force F120 SSDs, which have 120GB of available capacity (111.79GB formatted), good read and write speeds, and are compatible with our desktop computer SATA II interfaces. Our desktop computers are currently using about one-third of the capacity of these boot drives for the operating system and applications, and our file server is using about one-fourth of the capacity of the boot drive, leaving plenty of room to add new applications.

Our desktop machines now boot up faster, and applications, such as Microsoft Office 2010, web browsers, antivirus software, etc., respond more quickly both when starting and using the programs. In general, our desktop systems are performing better now than they were previously. We kept the hard drives that were in these systems, but use them only for data. For our production file server, we keep multiple copies of our data on multiple spinning disk drives.

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 identify flash-based drives and use the Trim command, available for SATA interface SSDs, to perform cleanup of blocks that are no longer needed on the SSD. This process is also known as “garbage collection.” By using Trim, blocks that are no longer needed can be processed by the “program-erase” cycle for the flash media in the background. When blocks are needed for writing, they are back in their fresh, empty state, which allows for the fastest type of writes to flash-based devices. This program-erase cycle is needed for NAND-flash media, but is not needed for spinning hard disks.

Trim only applies to SATA interface flash devices. There is an “unmap” function in the SCSI specification which provides a similar type of function for storage interfaces that use the SCSI protocol, such as SAS, Fibre Channel (FC), Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and iSCSI. We are expecting to see enterprise storage devices that support the unmap function during this calendar year. I’m not aware of a Trim equivalent for USB interface drives or PCIe SSDs. Most of the SSD drive manufacturers provide a utility to perform Trim functions for their devices, which can be used as stand-alone utilities or for operating systems that do not support Trim.

We already deployed SSDs as the boot drive for our newer lab servers, and liked the results, so we figured now is the time to deploy SSDs on most of our production systems. SSDs are becoming increasingly popular and we expect more and more SSDs to be deployed this year. You can keep up with our SSD activities on our SSD zone at Demartek.com/SSD.