Storage I/O trends

How many IOPS can a HDD, HHDD or SSD do?


A common question I run across is how many IOPS (IO Operations Per Second) can a storage device or system do or give.


The answer is or should be it depends.


This is the first of a two-part series looking at storage performance, and in context specifically around drive or device (e.g. mediums) characteristics across HDD, HHDD and SSD that can be found in cloud, virtual, and legacy environments. In this first part the focus is around putting some context around drive or device

performance with the second part looking at some workload characteristics (e.g. benchmarks).


What about cloud, tape, storage systems or appliance?


Lets leave those for a different discussion at another time.

Getting started

Part of my interest in tools, metrics that matter, measurements, analyst, forecasting ties back to having been  a server, storage and IO performance and capacity planning analyst when I worked in IT. Another aspect ties back to also having been a sys admin as well as business applications developer when on the IT customer side of things. This was followed by switching over to the vendor world involved with among other things competitive positioning, customer design configuration, validation, simulation and benchmarking HDD and SSD based solutions (e.g. life before becoming an analyst and advisory consultant).


Btw, if you happen to be interested in learn more about server, storage and IO performance and capacity planning, check out my first book Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier) that has  a bit of information on it. There is also coverage of metrics and planning in my two other books The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press). I have some copies of Resilient Storage Networks available at a special reader or viewer rate (essentially shipping and handling). If interested drop me a note and can fill you in on the details.


There are many rules of thumb (RUT) when it comes to metrics that matter such as IOPS, some that are older while others may be guess or measured in different ways. However the answer is that it depends on many things ranging from if a standalone hard disk drive (HDD), Hybrid HDD (HHDD), Solid State Device (SSD) or if attached to a storage system, appliance, or RAID adapter card among others.


Taking a step back, the big picture

hdd image
Various HDD, HHDD and SSD's

Server, storage and I/O performance and benchmark fundamentals

Even if just looking at a HDD, there are many variables ranging from the rotational speed or Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), interface including 1.5Gb, 3.0Gb, 6Gb or 12Gb SAS or SATA or 4Gb Fibre Channel. If simply using a RUT or number based on RPM can cause issues particular with 2.5 vs. 3.5 or enterprise and desktop. For example, some current generation 10K 2.5 HDD can deliver the same or better performance than an older generation 3.5 15K. Other drive factors (see this link for HDD fundamentals) including physical size such as 3.5 inch or 2.5 inch small form factor (SFF), enterprise or desktop or consumer, amount of drive level cache (DRAM). Space capacity of a drive can also have an impact such as if all or just a portion of a large or small capacity devices is used. Not to mention what the drive is attached to ranging from in internal SAS or SATA drive bay, USB port, or a HBA or RAID adapter card or in a storage system.

disk iops
HDD fundamentals


How about benchmark and performance for marketing or comparison tricks including delayed, deferred or asynchronous writes vs. synchronous or actually committed data to devices? Lets not forget about short stroking (only using a portion of a drive for better IOP's) or even long stroking (to get better bandwidth leveraging spiral transfers) among others.


Almost forgot, there are also thick, standard, thin and ultra thin drives in 2.5 and 3.5 inch form factors. What's the difference? The number of platters and read write heads. Look at the following image showing various thickness 2.5 inch drives that have various numbers of platters to increase space capacity in a given density. Want to take a wild guess as to which one has the most space capacity in a given footprint? Also want to guess which type I use for removable disk based archives along with for onsite disk based backup targets (compliments my offsite cloud backups)?


types of disks
Thick, thin and ultra thin devices


Beyond physical and configuration items, then there are logical configuration including the type of workload, large or small IOPS, random, sequential, reads, writes or mixed (various random, sequential, read, write, large and small IO). Other considerations include file system or raw device, number of workers or concurrent IO threads, size of the target storage space area to decide impact of any locality of reference or buffering. Some other items include how long the test or workload simulation ran for, was the device new or worn in before use among other items.


Tools and the performance toolbox

Then there are the various tools for generating IO's or workloads along with recording metrics such as reads, writes, response time and other information. Some examples (mix of free or for fee) include Bonnie, Iometer, Iorate, IOzone, VdbenchTPC, SPC, Microsoft ESRP, SPEC and netmist, Swifttest, Vmark, DVDstore and PCmark 7 among many others. Some are focused just on the storage system and IO path while others are application specific thus exercising servers, storage and IO paths.


performance tools
Server, storage and IO performance toolbox


Having used Iometer since the late 90s, it has its place and is popular given its ease of use. Iometer is also long in the tooth and has its limits including not much if any new development, never the less, I have it in the toolbox.  I also have Futremark PCmark 7 (full version) which turns out has some interesting abilities to do more than exercise an entire Windows PC. For example PCmark can use a secondary drive for doing IO to.


PCmark can  be handy for spinning up with VMware (or other tools) lots of virtual Windows systems  pointing to a NAS or other shared storage device  doing real world type activity. Something that could be handy for testing or stressing virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI) along with other storage systems, servers and solutions. I also have Vdbench among others tools in the toolbox including Iorate which was used to drive the workloads shown below.


What I look for in a tool are how extensible are the scripting capabilities to define various workloads along with capabilities of the test engine. A nice GUI is handy which makes Iometer popular and yes there are script capabilities with Iometer. That is also where Iometer is long in the tooth compared to some of the newer generation of tools that have more emphasis on extensibility vs. ease of use interfaces. This also assumes knowing what workloads to generate vs. simply kicking off some IOPs using default settings to see what happens.


Another handy tool is for recording what's going on with a running system including IO's, reads, writes, bandwidth or transfers, random and sequential among other things. This is where when needed I turn to something like HiMon from HyperIO, if you have not tried it, get in touch with Tom West over at HyperIO and tell him StorageIO sent you to get a demo or trial. HiMon is what I used for doing start, stop and boot among other testing being able to see IO's at the Windows file system level (or below) including very early in the boot or shutdown phase.


Here is a link to some other things I did awhile back with HiMon to profile some Windows and VDI activity test profiling.


What's the best tool or benchmark or workload generator?

The one that meets your needs, usually your applications or something as close as possible to it.


disk iops
Various 2.5 and 3.5 inch HDD, HHDD, SSD with different performance

So how many IOP's can a device do?

That depends, however continue reading part II of this series to see some results for various types of drives and workloads.


Ok, nuff said (for now)


Cheers gs