Q

Meeting storage-accelerator hardware and software requirements

A suitable PCIe slot and an OS that supports a storage accelerator is generally all that's needed to boost performance.

What are the hardware and software requirements for installing an I/O accelerator?

Generally, the hardware requirements for server-agnostic I/O accelerators, or storage accelerators, are surprisingly light. In most cases, the server must support a second-generation PCIe slot with four data transfer lanes or more; you may see it marked PCIe 2.0 x 4, for example. Usually a server that provides a suitable PCIe slot will also handle the power and computing overhead the storage accelerator requires.

The only other issue is physical space. The accelerator can be large, so verify that there is enough space around the slot and adequate cooling airflow. The accelerator should not obstruct other devices in the server.

From a software standpoint, server-agnostic I/O accelerators provide drivers and support for a variety of major operating systems. For example, Fusion-io's ioDrive2 supports Windows Server 2012, 2008 R2, 2008 and 2003. It also supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6 and 5, along with other enterprise Linux and UNIX versions.

If the server is virtualized, the I/O accelerator must be compatible with the hypervisor -- this is critical for supporting consolidated workloads. The ioDrive2 supports hypervisors, including VMware ESX 4.0, 4.1, ESXi 4.1, 5.0, 5.1 and Windows 2008 R2 with Hyper-V.

OS and hypervisor support can become problematic with specialized hardware devices like an I/O accelerator -- OS and hypervisor vendors may not validate their updates against I/O accelerator hardware. Businesses considering the technology should perform extensive testing before rolling out the hardware to a production data center. In addition, IT professionals should test any OS or hypervisor patch or update to ensure the I/O accelerator remains accessible and stable before deploying the software changes.

Local storage can become a bottleneck that strangles application performance and responsiveness -- especially in databases and storage-intensive tasks like data analytics. Storage accelerators combine the speed of solid-state memory with the performance of PCIe bus architecture to provide servers with extremely low latency and high input/output operations per second (IOPS) storage, while drivers allow the OS and hypervisor to use the I/O accelerator as an ordinary block storage device that requires no application changes.

This was first published in June 2013

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