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MaxIQ: Quadrupling Existing RAID Performance?

Original Article Date: 2009-12-01

Conventional mechanical hard drives are inexpensive and have high-capacities that meet increasingly hungry storage needs. But they have not increased significantly in performance over the last 10-15, especially compared with the orders of magnitude increase in CPU performance.

New solid state drives, or SSDs (see my SSD article for more information) on the other hand, offer seek-times and access latencies several orders of magnitude better than conventional hard drives. But SSDs are still expensive and have limited capacities.

Is there a middle ground? With an enterprise level RAID, maybe there is...

Just as a cache on a CPU significantly improves the performance of that CPU through the rapid storage and retrieval of frequently used data on a local chip store, so too do RAID controllers have a cache for storing frequently used bits of information going to and from the storage array. But RAID controller caches are limited in size, especially compared to the data store total volume, and whilst they do provide a benefit, it is not as significant as that of a CPU cache's benefit to its parent processor.

Now, if you're tracking with me here, you'll probably have already guessed what's next. What if we took a low-latency, high performance SSD, and made that the cache of a RAID volume? Whilst the 32-160 gigabytes that SSDs have might not be enough for the RAID volume itself, such a size is much more than the mere megabytes of cache that come with RAID controllers, and might just be enough to provide a cache to the RAID that can make a real difference. Genius! And this is exactly what Adaptec have done, with their MaxIQ product.

MaxIQ: An SSD Cache for a Conventional HDD RAID

Launched in September of this year, Adaptec's MaxIQ product uses an 32GB Intel X25-E SSD and a proprietary software package to provide intelligent caching of RAID volumes built onto their Series 2 and Series 5 RAID Controllers.

The following diagram provides a summary of how MaxIQ works:


"Hot" data defined in the diagram above is frequently used or repeated information, which is common in web server and database applications, amongst others. "Cold" data would be that data which is "new" to the controller, such as the bits on a video server from a file that hasn't been accessed for a while. MaxIQ uses the SSD as a cache for the hot data, thereby improving overally RAID performance significantly in certain applications.

Adaptec have claimed that IOPS (I/Os per second) on RAIDs fitted with MaxIQ have increased by as much as five times! So potentially we're not talking about percentage increases, but several factors of increase in performance.

For further reading, check out Adaptec's MaxIQ Page.

Max IQ Available Now from Electronics Nexus

MaxIQ is available now, either with new servers, or as an upgrade to existing equipment. Most servers supplied by Electronics Nexus in the last 12-24 months were fitted with Adaptec Series 5 RAID controllers. This means that you can retrofit your existing server from Electronics Nexus now, to take advantage of the potential performance increases that MaxIQ has to offer.

Here's what you need to take advantage of the MaxIQ package:

  • Max IQ, which includes a 32GB Intel X25-E SSD with special Adaptec header information (which allows it to be used with the MaxIQ software), plus a CD of the MaxIQ Software Suite which will run under Windows or Linux.
  • An Adaptec Series 2 or Series 5 RAID Controller (5405, 5805, 5085 models are the most common). Existing systems will require a simple firmware upgrade to the RAID controller to enable MaxIQ functionality on the card.
  • A 2.5" to 3.5" hotswap drive frame, to allow the SSD to fit into your existing SAS or SATA hotswap backplane. The SSD is then simply connected to the RAID controller via the SATA/SAS cabling just like any regular drive.

New systems can be fitted with MaxIQ by simply selecting the MaxIQ cache drive and software item on the "Hard Disk Drive Bay Population" array in any of our online system configurators.

Existing users can contact me for special pricing on the upgrade of existing systems, and to determine whether their RAID controller is compatible.

Best regards,

Ben Ranson
Chief Systems Engineer
Electronics Nexus