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IBM flashes 1.2 million TPC-C result

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Intelligent flash storage arrays

IBM recorded 1.2 million TPC-C transactions on a Power 780 server using a massive 35TB of flash memory, in the vendor's latest storage burn-up.

Big Blue's 9179 Power 780 server was given 3.5TB of PCIe-connected solid state drive (SSD) NAND, identified by a FC4367 part number. We understand that this was multi-level-cell (MLC) flash driven by SandForce controllers.

The server had two 4-socket Power7 processors and ran AIX and the DB2 database. The disk storage comprised 26TB of 7200rpm SATA drives and 2.7TB of 15K SAS drives, making a total of 37.6TB of storage in the benchmark configuration (pdf).

The setup delivered 150,000 transactions a minute with each core. SandForce says this is 50 per cent better than the next fastest system. The result was not the fastest recorded; far from it, a Sun SPARC box recorded 7.65 million TPC-Cs last year. Nor is it best in price/performance; a Dell PowerEdge recorded $0.50/TPC-C in November last year, with the Power 780 delivering $0.69/TPC-C, sixth in the rankings behind various Dell and HP X86 servers.

Where the SandForce controllers shone, was in the performance delivered at that price. The top Dell box recorded 239,392 TPCs, and most of the other servers delivered less as we go down the list to IBM, with the exception of an HP ProLiant shooting out 705,652 TPC-Cs at $0.60/TPC-C from its 24 AMD cores. IBM was well ahead here with its 1.2 million TPC-Cs for $0.69/TPC-C.

Interestingly the HP ProLiant DL385G7 server used flash too, 1.89TB of the stuff, a quite small proportion of its 28.6TB of combined hard drive and SSD capacity.

These results did not measure performance against energy consumption, but we can assume that the flash-using systems have better energy usage figures than the disk-based servers.

The IBM result is a nice one for SandForce which is plugging the message that its controllers make very good use of MLC NAND, slower than the more expensive single-level cell (SLC) flash. It also shows IBM being quite willing to ring the changes; after all it did a million IOPS flash demo with Fusion-io in the QuickSilver project last year, then equipped its SAN Volume Controller with STEC flash, also used in its DS8000 storage array. Now it's using SandForce-controlled MLC flash in Power7 servers.

There is a good chance that in a year or so MLC flash prices will be lower, and flash-filled servers will win the TPC-C price/performance crown and the TPC performance crown as well. Already the leading TPC-C performance system, a Sun SPARC system, used a 1.92TB F5100 flash array. This was a relative pittance set against its 684.68TB of disk storage. But we will surely see systems with much more flash breaking a 10 million TPC-C barrier by the end of 2011. ®

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