CopperEye Indexing for
                                      Flash Disk

A CopperEye technical white paper

March 2010...
A White paper by CopperEye Ltd                                                           March, 2010

A White paper by CopperEye Ltd                                                              March, 2010

As an aside, i...
A White paper by CopperEye Ltd                                                                                March, 2010
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CopperEye Indexing for Flash Disk


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CopperEye Indexing for Flash Disk

  1. 1. CopperEye Indexing for Flash Disk A CopperEye technical white paper March 2010 © CopperEye, Ltd 2010
  2. 2. A White paper by CopperEye Ltd March, 2010 Introduction Flash disk has now become a commonplace replacement for conventional hard disk storage. The vendors of these products have invested significant time and effort in providing a plug and play replacement for standard disks by emulating the hard disk drive interfaces. While the interfaces are the same, flash disk performance is expected to be radically superior to hard disk technology and yet can be disappointingly similar to hard disks for certain workloads. This paper discusses the characteristics of flash technology and explores how CopperEye technology can yield the best performance for indexes hosted on flash storage. Flash Memory Performance Vendors of flash storage regularly claim random I/O rates of hundreds of thousands of random operations per second. Compared to a fast hard-disk drive - which can achieve about 200 random seeks per second - it would appear that flash disk is many orders of magnitude faster than hard disk. Therefore, it might be imagined that plugging in a flash drive as a replacement for a hard drive would yield a performance boost of at least a hundred fold. What vendors make less obvious is that flash memory is extremely asymmetrical in its behavior - a random write can take much longer than a random read of the same size. Random 4KB writes are currently only twice that of a good hard disk whereas random reads are typically 500 times faster. In other words, random reads are blazingly fast while random writes are quite the opposite. Similarly, for transfer rates experienced with sequential access IO - the read transfer rates for flash disk are excellent while write transfer rates are closer to those found with a good hard disk. Flash Memory Structure To understand why a flash disk is so skewed in its read/write characteristics, it is necessary to look at the structure of flash memory and the limitations that arise. NAND flash memory is the most common replacement for disk storage because of its faster write-time, greater density and lower-cost than other alternatives. This type of flash memory is composed of blocks which are divided into pages. The sizes used for blocks and pages vary depending on the overall size of the chip, but a page size of 4KB and a block size of 2MB are typical in today’s larger chips. When reading from the chip, the read can be rapidly performed at the page level (4KB) and each page can be randomly and individually addressed in a matter of microseconds which yields extremely fast random read rates. But writes are much more complicated for NAND memory. Firstly, an individual bit can only be updated in one direction (from 1 to 0) and bits must be updated in sequential order within a page – if you wish to alter a bit in the opposite direction (from 0 to 1), the whole page must be erased and re-written. Worst still, erasure operations can only occur at the block level and these take a few milliseconds of time. Therefore, to update a single bit within a page requires another block to be erased and all unchanged pages in the original block to be copied into the newly erased block; with the single updated page being modified during its copy. This is why a small random write is so much slower than a small random read and is closer in performance to a hard disk. Indeed, an empirically fast erasure time of 2ms limits the chip to a write rate of no more than 500 write operations per second. Even if those write operations are large and transfer a whole block (2MB say) per write, then the theoretical sequential write transfer rate is at best 1GB/s while experience shows that practical rates are actually much less than this. CopperEye indexing for Flash Disk 2
  3. 3. A White paper by CopperEye Ltd March, 2010 As an aside, it is interesting to note that a new flash drive will initially perform extremely well for random writes - because it has a stock of empty blocks that do not require erasure prior to the copy of an updated page. But over time the stock of empty blocks becomes exhausted because every block used subsequently requires erasure before it can be used again. As already mentioned, page and block sizes are linked to chip size with larger block sizes found in larger chips and therefore it can be expected that performance characteristics will become even more asymmetrical as chips grow ever larger. Random I/O problem We can see that any storage structure that exerts a workload of small random writes against a flash disk will suffer poor performance when compared to a structure that only requires large write operations. Indeed, optimal performance can only be achieved when the average write operation size is a multiple of the flash memory block size. For example, hosting a B-Tree index on flash disk would likely only improve its update performance by two-fold when compared to a hard disk drive. This is a lot less than might be expected from flash storage at first glance and arises because each random key insert/update or delete operation emerges as one or more small independent random write requests. Of course, it is possible to cache the index structure in main memory to accumulate the random writes and then flush the index to disk as large sequential writes. But caching requires a huge amount of memory for a large index; and besides, this caching strategy is equally applicable to a hard disk too. In other words, flash memory cannot offer a significant performance benefit over hard disk for any structure which naturally requires small random write IO operations to update it; because whatever strategy is employed to coalesce write operations - that strategy is also equally applicable to hard disk. The CopperEye Index Solution The CopperEye index technology has already solved the problem of eliminating small random write IO for index maintenance and is equally applicable to flash disk as it is to hard disk. Indeed, CopperEye index technology is potentially even better suited to flash disk than hard disk because it can benefit from the fast random read rate of flash disk to yield extremely fast query performance. A CopperEye index is block structured and, unlike a B-Tree, can support extremely large block sizes. This allows a CopperEye index to work with block sizes that are a multiple of the flash memory size. In fact, the characteristics of the technology imply that an optimal CopperEye index block size would be eight times that of the flash memory block; which could yield an index performance of the order of hundreds of thousands of key inserts per second per flash disk - about 200 times better than an equivalent B-tree index on the same flash disk. Queries would be extremely fast too and could be many hundred times faster than those experienced with a conventional hard disk. CopperEye indexing for Flash Disk 3
  4. 4. A White paper by CopperEye Ltd March, 2010 The Potential As it stands, CopperEye index technology offers a huge performance potential for hosting indexes on flash storage devices, despite the fact that the technology was originally developed to solve the problems associated with hard disk storage. In fact, there are a number of simple modifications that can be made to the index algorithms to exploit the characteristics of flash disk even further. For example, the existing algorithms assume that a random read operation is slow (the case for a hard disk) but these could be enhanced to exploit the faster read characteristics of flash storage. Conclusion The era of flash disk has not removed the random-write bottleneck from storage devices and CopperEye index technology continues to be relevant and useful for indexes hosted on flash drives. Indeed, it is proposed that CopperEye indexing be developed further still to specifically exploit the characteristics of flash drives, as well as hard disk drives, so that the technology can deliver the best possible performance for hard disk, flash disk and hybrid storage environments. About CopperEye CopperEye is a leading provider of enterprise data management solutions that eliminate the economic, technical and operational obstacles of storing and accessing massive volumes of data. CopperEye’s patented technology enables rapid data acquisition and retrieval, simplifying the management of data intensive environments while providing organizations with the performance and long-term retention they require to meet their business and legislative objectives. CopperEye was founded in June 2000. Company headquarters are in Bath, U.K., with a U.S. office in Boston, Massachusetts. UK Corporate Headquarters US Headquarters CopperEye, Box House, Box, Nr Corsham, Wiltshire, SN13 8AA, UK CopperEye, 101 Federal Street, Suite 1900, Boston, MA 02110, USA E t +44 (0) 1225 745 500 f +44 (0) 1225 745 501 t +1-617-342-7173 f +1-617-342-7080 W Copyright © 2004-2010 CopperEye, Ltd. CopperEye, Ltd. All other marks and names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective companies.