IO Accelerators

Making a case for IO Accelerators in Business Intelligence

Many of you in the Business Intelligence (BI) world might have overlooked a hidden gem that is available in hardware world. This is understandable considering most BI leaders tend to focus on software solutions and rely on other IT resources to recommend hardware configurations.  A few years ago a new breed of storage evolved out of the world of NAND flash. It started with the Solid State Disk drive (SSD) and evolved into the IO Accelerator. However, an IO Accelerator is very different then a SSD in many ways and it also offers many benefits to BI. This article will help bring you up to speed on the benefits of IO Accelerators in the BI world and the technical differences compared to disk drives.

SSD were introduced a few years ago as an alternative to traditional magnetic spinning platter disk drives. They utilized NAND flash for persistent storage and could outperform magnetic disks because they managed data with no moving parts. The SSD drive was built to support existing disk protocols like SATA and SAS and shared the same hardware interfaces. In many cases a server administrator could exchange a magnetic disk drive for a SSD in an existing server because the two drives shared the same physical size and connection ports. The performance of the SSD was far superior to the magnetic drive because it was able to find and pinpoint data blocks without relying on mechanical processes. However, SSD disk drives still interface with storage controllers that are limited by bandwidth and their ability to directly interface with RAM and CPU.  You can find a more detailed explanation of this on the Decision First web site.

The IO accelerator is very different from a SSD drive in that it interfaces with the CPU and RAM on the PCI Express (PCIe) bus.  As a result it is physically close to the CPU and RAM, resulting in unmatched bandwidth, IOPS and seek times. The IO Accelerator looks nothing like a disk drive because it is actually an expansion card. You can see these cards first hand clicking here. The result of this technology produces a persistent storage drive that achieves IOPS that are over 200 times faster than magnetic drives. For comparison purposes, a standard magnetic SAN or RAID array can achieve about 4,000 IOPS while a first generation IO accelerator card can achieve over 250,000. The second generations IO Accelerators are claiming IOPS above 1,000,000 which is nearly a rival to the speed of using DRAM (In-Memory) storage. You can find many case studies and white papers on the site to see the benefits for yourself. If you take the time to read the information provided in the links, it is clear that IO Accelerators are a game changer in the storage world.

Now that we have established the makeup and benefits of IO Accelerators, it’s time to understand how this benefits BI. The heart of BI centers around data and generally BI data is described in two ways. Structured data is the information that is stored in a database and it is highly controlled, relational and accessible using the SQL or MDX queries. There is also unstructured data which can be described as the antithesis of structured data. Emails, Blogs, Twitter feeds, software logs and many others can be considered unstructured. However, both types of data share a commonality in that they are stored on somewhere on a disk. The processes that we use to access this stored data are key to understanding why the speed of storage media matters. When you execute a query the server must read this information from the disk drive and perform some form of calculation. If the query needs to access a large quantity of data to make a calculation, the processes can be substantially slowed due to the mechanical nature of magnetic disks. Simply put, it takes too long to read the data from magnetic storage compared to the other components on the server.  You also have to consider the bottlenecks that exist on the motherboard in relation to how data is processed. If the disk drive controller sits on the south bridge bus then it is not physically close to the CPU and RAM and it has limited bandwidth when dealing with data. If the disk drive controller sits on the north bridge bus or in this case the PCI Express bus, it will have direct serial access to the CPU and RAM. As a result an IO Accelerator card’s bandwidth and ability to work with stored data is much faster. In other words, the IO Accelerator, utilizing the north bridge, is able to link the data more directly to the CPU and RAM for processing.  This leads to the two main benefits of an IO Accelerator. First, it is 200 to 400 times faster at reading data from storage. Second, there are fewer limiting hardware factors in presenting that data to the CPU and RAM for processing. IO Accelerator cards also utilize special disk protocols and NAND flash striping that enhance their performance compared to SSD disks. From a hardware standpoint, it is clear that an IO Accelerator is a game changer in terms of managing stored data.

Hopefully you have a better understanding of how the IO Accelerator can benefit data processing so let’s talk specifically about BI apps and how they can benefit from the IO Accelerator.  For starters, Relation Database Management Systems (RDMS) will work 60% to 80% faster when reading or writing data to or from this new type of storage. This has an upward effect on the BI tools that are utilized to query the data. If the data can be accessed and processed faster, then the reporting or analytic tools that access the database will also respond faster to user’s requests. There are other BI tools that store and cache data as well that will benefit in the same way.  Take for example SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, SAP Netweaver BW Cubes and SAP BusinessObjects Data Services. All of these tools have options to cache data to disk and utilizing an IO Accelerator will extend their performance and scalability. “Big Data” can also benefit from the IO Accelerator as index seeks and scans, across large tables or partitions will occur much faster. Large quantities of unstructured data processing will also benefit from the enhanced performance for many of the same reasons. Another benefit of the IO Accelerator is its ease of adoption. Upgrading to an IO Accelerator is a pure hardware solution that requires no software changes other than the relocation of the data to the new storage drive. For most organizations this can provide a quick and easy solution that enhances the performance of their BI environment and applications.

For a case study check out

The final point I will make concerns the comparison of IO Accelerators to “In-Memory” databases such as SAP HANA. If you look at the spectrum of database storage options available today there is no doubt that storing data “In-Memory” or in DRAM offers the best performance available. With this in mind, SAP HANA offers the pinnacle solution for enhancing BI performance. However, the IO Accelerator technology can exists as a solution for organizations that need a quick and easy fix to BI application performance.  I can also envision a future where organizations will incorporate both “In-Memory” appliances and IO Accelerator cards into their storage landscape to help manage their overall BI data requirements and storage costs. If you would like more information on BI IO Accelerator solutions for your organization you can visit the Decision First Technologies site or contact a sales associate using the following form.