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15,000 RPM Fibre Channel Disk Drives:

A Best-Practice Guide for Optimizing
System Performance
by Shawn Kung,
Network Appliance, Inc.

December, 2003 | TR 3285


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Table of Contents
1. Abstract
2. The Problem: Disk Bound Applications Lower Access Density
3. The Solution: 15k Drives Further Enhance NetApp Performance Leadership
4. 15k Drive Performance Benefits
5. Target Applications
6. NetApp 15k Drive Offerings
7. Best-Practice Configuration of 15k Drives
8. Spares Best Practice: Capacity Rules

1. Abstract
A growing problem facing customers running high-performance, random-access workload
applications is the increasing disk bottleneck in their existing storage systems. One way to reduce
this bottleneck is to find ways to increase input/output operations per second (IOPS) per drive
and reduce response time. The new NetApp offering of 15,000 RPM Fibre Channel drives (15k
drives) helps customers do just that.

This white paper is for IT managers, IT consultants, sales engineers, and anyone else who wants
to understand how to improve random access workload performance for disk bound or spindle-
limited storage environments. We will answer some of the most pressing questions including:
• What applications will benefit most by using 15k drives?

• How do I determine which 15k drive capacity (36GB vs 72GB) I should use?

• What performance improvement can I expect from 15k drives for my applications?

• What is the best practice for configuring 15k drives in a new system or in my existing

2. The Problem: Disk Bound Applications Lower Access Density

Customers purchasing storage systems benefit from decades-long trends in disk technology.
Year after year, disk drives hold more data, access data more quickly, and shrink physically.
These changes combine to produce systems that are ever-faster and more economical. However,
while the disk industry publicizes its ever-falling cost per gigabyte, they less often advertise
storage performance per disk drive. Customers buying storage systems to support today's high-
end online applications must consider not only how densely the data is stored, but also how
densely the data is accessed.

Online applications typically access data in small chunks. For small I/O operations, the time to
bring the disk head to the data is much higher than the time to read or write the data. For this
reason, the performance of such systems is typically measured in I/O operations per second
(IOPS) rather than in megabytes per second. The access density of the data, measured in IOPS
per gigabyte, must be matched to the access density supported by the storage system.

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The access density supported by a disk drive is the ratio of its capacity in IOPS to its capacity in
gigabytes. The physics of disk systems drives up the capacity in gigabytes much more quickly
than the capacity in IOPS. The result, illustrated by graph 1, is continually falling access densities.

Graph 1. Access Density Trends

As access density continues to decline, the disk bottleneck problem will become exacerbated and
result in reduced performance and higher access times for customers. IT managers need to
distinguish the access density required, which may change as an application evolves and ages,
from the access density provided, which doesn't change for installed systems and trends
downward as new systems are purchased. As enterprise applications (in particular
database/OLTP-based applications) continue to grow in sophistication, timely access and fast
performance become increasingly business-critical issues for IT managers to run their daily
business operations. One way to improve access density and reduce the disk bottleneck is to find
ways to increase IOPS per drive. NetApp's new offering of 15,000 RPM Fibre Channel drives
(15k drives) can help customers do just that.

3. The Solution: 15k Drives Further Enhance NetApp

Performance Leadership
Significant performance benefits are provided by 15k drives for small-block random access
workloads prevalent in database/OLTP-based applications. NetApp studies have shown the
following performance improvements over 10k drives:
• Up to 38% lower random 4kB read response times

• Up to 50% boost under maximum sustained random IOPS

These performance improvements come from lower average latency, faster seek times, and
higher transfer rates with the 15k drives when compared to 10k drives. Combined with unique
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performance enhancements in NetApp's latest Data ONTAP™ releases (6.4.2 and 6.5.0),
DS14Mk2 shelf (reconstruct performance gains), and electronically switched hub (high traffic-loop
performance gains), the introduction of 15k drives create a fully integrated and interoperable
"high-performance bundle" that further distances NetApp platforms ahead of the competition.
Coupled with the ability of NetApp Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL®) technology to optimize
performance for random write traffic, the added random read performance benefits of 15k drives
create a unique, holistic solution for maximizing random workload performance.

4. 15k Drive Performance Benefits

The graphs below compare the performance and response-time differences between 15k and 10k
drives by running both types of drives on identical NetApp platforms (FAS960, 36GB 15k drives,
Data ONTAP 6.5, 8-disk RAID group).

The outcome of the performance tests clearly shows a significant improvement in IOPS for a
given response time when using 15k drives. For example, for a 10-ms response time 15k drives
yield nearly twice as many IOPS (160 ops/drive vs 85 ops/drive) as 10k drives. The 10-ms
threshold is particularly important because Oracle typically recommends a response time of less
than 10 ms for database/OLTP applications running small-block random access workloads.
Another way to look at this is that for a given target IOPS, 15k drives significantly reduce the
response time necessary to achieve it. Graph 2 below shows that 15k drives reduce response
times by 38% over 10k drives given a fixed load of 125 IOPS per drive:

Graph 2. 15k Drives Dramatically Reduce Response Times

Source: 4k Random Read Test Based on SIO (workload generation tool
available on NOW™)

In addition to providing a large boost in IOPS for a given response time, 15k drives also benefit
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customers by taking longer to "saturate." Saturation begins when disks become fully utilized (or
disk-bound) and can no longer support additional IOPS without a sharp increase in response
time. A platform running 15k drives takes much longer to saturate than one with 10k drives, which
means that the drives can sustain lower response times in the face of growing workloads. Graph
3 depicts the superior IOPS achieved by 15k drives at peak loads:

Graph 3. 15k Drives Yields Significant Performance Improvements at

Peak Loads
Source: 4k Random Read Test Based on SIO (workload generation tool
available on NOW)

5. Target Applications
The target market for the 15k drives comprises customers in spindle-limited environments that
want to improve response time without adding additional disks, which require the burden of
additional physical space, cables, power supplies, and more complex manageability. These
customers typically run database/OLTP-based applications that require sub-10-ms response
times due to the nature of small-block-size random reads (primarily 4k and 8k blocks).

At a given performance level, 15k drives will deliver lower latencies. This is important to the type
of high-end applications our customers are targeting. In fact, it may be the single biggest reason
to purchase 15k drives. While you can always get more IOPS by just adding 10k drives, it is much
more difficult to achieve latencies under 10 ms with even a large number of 10k drives.

The target application areas that appear to be the most disk-bound when running small-block
random access workloads would benefit the most from the faster 15k drives. The degree to which
15K drives will help improve performance of any specific application will depend on its specific
configuration and workload characteristics. The following list illustrates application areas where
we have seen potential benefits for customers:
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• Banking/Brokerage/Insurance

• Business Applications (ERP/CRM)

• E-mail & Messaging

• Home Directories

• Internet Apps/Hosting

• Oil & Gas Industry

• Software Engineering

6. NetApp 15k Drive Offerings

NetApp offers two 15k drive capacities: 36GB and 72GB. At the individual drive level, each 15k
drive offers the same high performance and quality. Compared to their lower-spindle-speed 10k
counterparts (36GB and 72GB 10k drives), each 15k drive provides the same percentage
improvements in access density for a given capacity point.

Our research indicates that customers in these specific application environments are historically
spindle-limited and purchase less raw capacity than they truly need to achieve their desired
performance for database/OLTP-based random access workload applications. The 15k drives
solve this problem for customers that need high performance for relatively lower storage capacity
requirements. Most databases are greater than 500GB, so it is the consolidation of many
databases that creates the need for higher raw capacity per head.

But the real question customers need to answer is what level of access density (IOPS/GB) they
require at full capacity usage. Two levels of access density (IOPS/GB) are provided by 36GB vs
72GB 15k drives for a given raw capacity. In other words, if the raw capacity required was 1TB, a
customer could either buy twenty-eight 36GB drives (two shelves) or fourteen 72GB drives (one
shelf). Since adding more drives produces higher IOPS (see Volume and RAID Group Sizing
Guide, April 2003, NetApp Internal), using 36GB drives would yield higher IOPS/GB than 72GB
for a given raw capacity.

7. Best-Practice Configuration of 15k Drives

For Customers Desiring Optimized Performance in a New Platform
For customers purchasing new NetApp platform systems, we recommend the following
configurations to achieve optimal performance with our new 15k drive offering:

Filer Platform: F800 Series, FAS 250/270 Series, FAS900 Series

Data ONTAP™ Version: 6.4.2 or above
Disk Shelf: DS14 Mk2 HA
Storage Configuration: Homogeneous 15k Drive Volume and Spares Pool

For Customers Hoping to Improve Performance in Existing Systems

For existing NetApp customers that are hoping to gain a performance boost in their NetApp filers,
15k drives can be a solution if configured properly. (For help on how to identify which volume to
upgrade, please contact your local SE.)

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In order to realize the performance gains, existing customers should use the following four-step

Step 1: Purchase 15k drives from NetApp using QuickShip (spare parts ordering tool)
Step 2: Use these 15k drives to create a homogeneous 15k drive volume
Step 3: Copy the existing 10k drive volume to the new 15k drive volume (e.g., using Vol Copy)
Step 4: Swap out all existing 10k drives in the spares pool and repopulate with 15k drives

The end result of this four-step process should be a homogeneous 15k drive volume (which
implies homogeneous RAID groups, disk drives, and parity drives in that volume) and 15k drive
spares pool.

It is very important that customers do not just swap out a few 10k drives and replace them with
15k drives. This will not provide the optimal performance gain and NetApp strictly recommends
against this procedure. In other words, customers expecting optimal performance gains must
create a homogeneous configuration (all 15k drives in a volume) and NOT a heterogeneous
configuration (10k and 15k mixed together in the same volume). It is important to note, however,
that the filer configuration can include separate 10k and 15k volumes. Graphs 4 and 5 illustrate
these best-practice guidelines below.

Figure 4. Recommend Homogeneous 15k Drives for Volume and

Spares Pool

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Figure 5. Nonoptimal: 10K/15K Drives In Same Volume OR Mixed

10K/15K Spares Pool

8. Spares Best Practice: Capacity Rules

While the above diagrams provide general best-practice guidelines on spares pools, there is
another important exception that customers must consider: capacity. Here are two additional
rules to follow when configuring spares pools:

Rule 1: If the size of the smallest 10k spares drive is greater than the size of the largest 15k
spares drive, it is all right to have this 10k drive size in the spares pool.

Rule 2: Customers need to have adequate spares of each capacity size per RPM speed.

On face value, Rule 1 seems contrary to the recommendations noted above to maintain only 15k
drives in the spares pool. In general, the ideal spares pool for providing sustained optimal
performance would use only 15K drives. However, many customers will have different sized 10k
drives in their spares pools and will likely want to know if there is any way to either repurpose
them for something else or continue using them. For example, one possible way to continue
using 10k spares is to repurpose them by adding them as new RAID groups in an existing or new
10k volume. However, if customers either do not desire more storage space or are primarily
motivated by cost, there is another option.

Abiding by Rules 1 and 2 can enable some customers to continue using their 10k drives as
spares. For example, let us take a case where a customer currently has 144GB 10k drives in its
filer system. To enhance performance, the customer decides to purchase 72GB 15k drives. If the
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customer currently has 144GB 10k drives as hot spares in the spares pool, it can continue using
them as long as 72GB spares are added (Rule #2) and all 10k spares are greater than 72GB
(Rule #1). In this setup, if a 144GB data or parity drive fails, RAID will reconstruct on the 144GB
10k spare since it first chooses spares that have capacities equal to the failed drive. Now assume
that a 72GB 15k drive fails. RAID will reconstruct using the 72GB 15k spare since at least one is
available (Rule #2) and there are no 72GB 10k spares (Rule #1).

On the flip side, disregarding these rules can have negative consequences such as performance
degradation, time-consuming processes to resume optimal performance, and higher costs due to
reconstruction to inappropriate drives.

The bottom line is that customers should carefully consider the best-practice guidelines outlined
above and then consider the fit with their particular corporate needs. If there are follow-up
questions about how 15K drives can be implemented, the key thing is to contact your local
NetApp SE so that he/she can assess your particular needs and IT environment. Only then can
you discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks to determine whether 15k drives make sense for
your company.

Please contact Shawn Kung at for any questions or comments regarding
this report.

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