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Boost database performance with software defined storage

Sep 14

Posted September 24, 2014 by  Tim Pat Dufficy


As your databases grow, so will the pressure to maintain and even improve their performance.

The incremental improvements that can be obtained through attentive database optimisation are all well and good, but what if you could introduce a step change in performance?

With Software Defined Storage, you can do just that.

Software Defined Storage (SDS) has been a reality for some time now, but recent developments in open source SDS software have made it more accessible than ever.

Virtualisation of control

Since the dawn of computing, virtualisation has been explored as a means of improving productivity and efficiency while reducing costs. Strictly speaking, performing any computation in software, as opposed to hardware, is an act of virtualisation. However, the cloud and the virtual machines that make it are perhaps the biggest and best known successes of virtualisation.

The phenomenal, global success of cloud computing has driven further effort to virtualise other high-level functions, most notably in the areas of networking and now storage.

SDS separates the storage hardware (the disks) from the software that manages it. By virtualising the control processes (partitioning, policies, access, etc.) SDS grants greater scalability, flexibility and speed of configuration than SAN or NAS alternatives. This separation also enables the use of lower cost, commodity components.

Scalability, flexibility and reliability

While traditional SAN relies on a limited number of nodes (normally between 4 and 8), SDS has no such limit and can easily scale to thousands of nodes. This enables you to at last scale performance in a similar fashion to capacity - a true breakthrough.

Virtualisation of the control layer to software introduces never before seen flexibility too, making SDS solutions extremely well suited to cloud computing applications, both public and private. In a public cloud, the multi-tenant capabilities of the virtualised control allows the operator effective performance isolation and quick reallocation of unused capacity. In a private cloud, the same features allow multiple applications to use dynamically allocated portions of the total capacity with full workload isolation. This results in efficiencies for the end user in either scenario.

SDS boosts reliability too by removing single points of failure and enabling the use of rolling updates that never need the whole system to be taken off-line.

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Massive database performance gains

SDS is not a new concept, with a number of costly proprietary systems, as well as numerous approximations of true SDS, having been available for some years. More recently however, open source solutions have been developed and subsequently productised (being packaged with hardware and support) at a price point that is far more realistic for many. As a result, database administrators in start-ups, SMEs and enterprises can all now access the benefits that SDS offers.

Several vendors of open source SDS software, including our chosen provider Nexcenta, are taking the performance benefits of virtualised control to even greater heights by integrating the ZFS file system complete with discrete read and write caching.

ZFS and caching

ZFS is the open source file system designed for big data. Since it is a 128-bit file system, ZFS can address many times the data volume of other systems, like the 64-bit Btrfs. The capacity limitations of ZFS are so large, that they will not become an issue for the foreseeable future.

In addition, ZFS enables performance gains of, in our experience, up to 20 times, thanks to read and write caching. ZFS caching employs a hybrid storage pool consisting of RAM, SSD and the main hard disks to deliver the optimum balance between performance and cost. The most recently or frequently accessed data will automatically be housed first in RAM and then SSD to provide fast access. Colder data remains of the slower, and cheaper, hard disks.

Introducing SDS to your estate

Thanks to the efforts of open source developers and vendors like Nexcenta, SDS is now widely available and a realistic choice for your demanding database applications. It really is the future of cloud storage. Introduce SDS to your infrastructure today to gain an early and sustainable advantage over your competitors languishing on SAN/NAS.

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