It is often said that Hard Disk Drive storage is significantly cheaper per GiByte than Solid State Devices – this is wholly inaccurate within the database space. People need to look at the cost of the complete solution and not just a single component part in isolation to what is really required to meet the business requirement.

Buying a single Hitachi Ultrastar 600GB 3.5” SAS 15Krpm hard disk drive will cost approximately £239.60 (, 22nd March 2012) compared to an OCZ 600GB Z-Drive R4 CM84 PCIe costing £2,316.54 (, 22nd March 2012); I’ve not included FusionIO ioDrive because there is no public pricing available for it – something I never understand and personally when companies do this I immediately think what are they hiding, luckily in FusionIO’s case the product is proven though is expensive compared to OCZ enterprise offerings.

On the face of it the single 15Krpm hard disk has a price per GB of £0.39, the SSD £3.86; this is what you will see in the press and this is what sales people will use in comparing the two technologies – do not be fooled by this bullshit people!

What is the requirement? The requirement is the database will have a static size of 400GB kept static through archiving so growth and trim will balance the database size, the client requires resilience, there will be several hundred call centre staff querying the database where queries will read a small amount of data but there will be no hot spot in the data so the randomness will come across the entire 400GB of the database, estimates predict that the IOps required will be approximately 4,000IOps at peak times, because it’s a call centre system the IO latency is important and must remain below 5ms per IO. The balance between read and write is 70% read, 30% write.

The requirement is now defined and we have three of the most important pieces of the puzzle – space required, estimated IOps and maximum latency per IO.

Something to consider with regard SQL Server; write activity requires synchronous IO to the storage media specifically the transaction log; that means the write thread will wait until the IO is completed and hardened off until the thread can continue execution, the requirement has stated that 30% of the system activity will be write so we can expect a high amount of synchronous activity.

The hardware solution needs to be defined; two possible solutions: hard disk or solid state based; the real question now is how many hard disks are required to achieve the IO throughput, the latency and resilience, ditto for the solid state.

Hard Drive solution

On a test on an HP DL380, P410i controller using IOMeter against a single 15Krpm 146GB SAS drive, the throughput given on a transfer size of 8KiB against a 40GiB file on a freshly formatted disk where the partition is the only partition on the disk thus the 40GiB file is on the outer edge of the drive so more sectors can be read before head movement is required:

For 100% sequential IO at a queue depth of 16 with 8 worker threads 43,537 IOps at an average latency of 2.93ms (340 MiB/s), for 100% random IO at the same queue depth and worker threads 3,733 IOps at an average latency of 34.06ms (34 MiB/s).

The same test was done on the same disk but the test file was 130GiB: For 100% sequential IO at a queue depth of 16 with 8 worker threads 43,537 IOps at an average latency of 2.93ms (340 MiB/s), for 100% random IO at the same queue depth and worker threads 528 IOps at an average latency of 217.49ms (4 MiB/s).

From the result it is clear random performance gets worse as the disk fills up – I’m currently writing an article on short stroking which will cover this in detail.

Given the work load is random in nature looking at the random performance of the single drive when only 40 GiB of the 146 GB is used gives near the IOps required but the latency is way out.

Luckily I have tested 6 x 15Krpm 146GB SAS 15Krpm drives in a RAID 0 using the same test methodology, for the same test above on a 130 GiB for each drive added the performance boost is near linear, for each drive added throughput goes up by 5 MiB/sec, IOps by 700 IOps and latency reducing nearly 50% per drive added (172 ms, 94 ms, 65 ms, 47 ms, 37 ms, 30 ms). This is because the same 130GiB is spread out more as you add drives 130 / 1, 130 / 2, 130 / 3 etc. so implicit short stroking is occurring because there is less file on each drive so less head movement required.

The best latency is still 30 ms but we have the IOps required now, but that’s on a 130GiB file and not the 400GiB we need.

Some reality check here: a) the drive randomness is more likely to be 50/50 and not a full 100% but the above has highlighted the effect randomness has on the drive and the more a drive fills with data the worse the effect.

For argument sake let us assume that for the given workload we need 8 disks to do the job, for resilience reasons we will need 16 because we need to RAID 1+0 them in order to get the throughput and the resilience, RAID 5 would degrade performance.

Cost for hard drives: 16 x £239.60 = £3,833.60

For the hard drives we will need disk controllers and a separate external disk array because the likelihood is that the server itself won’t take the drives, a quick spec off DELL for a PowerVault MD1220 which gives the dual pathing with 16 disks 146GB 15Krpm 2.5” disks is priced at £7,438.00, note its probably more once we had two controller cards to sit in the server in, racking etc.

Minimum cost taking the DELL quote as an example is therefore: {Cost of Hardware} / {Storage Required}

£7,438.60 / 400 = £18.595 per GB

£18.59 per GiB is a far cry from the £0.39 we had been told by the salesman and the myth. Yes, the storage array is composed of 16 x 146 disks in RAID 10 (therefore 8 usable) giving an effective usable storage availability of 1168GB but the actual storage requirement is only 400 and the extra disks have had to be purchased to get the  IOps up.

Solid State Drive solution

A single card significantly exceeds the IOps and latency required, for resilience two will be required.

( £2,316.54 * 2 ) / 400 = £11.58 per GB

With the SSD solution only two PCIe sockets are required, no external disk units, no additional controllers, no redundant controllers etc.


I hope by showing you an example that the myth that hard disk drives are cheaper per GiB than Solid State has now been dispelled - £11.58 per GB for SSD compared to £18.59 for Hard Disk.

I’ve not even touched on the running costs, compare the costs of running 18 hard disks, that’s a lot of heat and power compared to two PCIe cards!

Just a quick note: I've left a fair amount of information out due to this being a blog! If in doubt, email me :)

I'll also deal with the myth that SSD's wear out at a later date as well - that's just way over done still, yes, 5 years ago, but now - no.