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How ARM64 Can Outperform Traditional x86

The general assumption is that the more powerful your processor, the better. But that’s just not true when it comes to storage. Storage only needs a certain amount of compute; connectivity and the efficiency of input and output are actually far more important for storage than processing power. In fact, too much compute can have a negative impact on storage, for example by generating excess heat which, in turn, affects utility costs and data reliability.

In the bulk of software-defined storage (SDS) applications, 64-bit ARM (ARM64) has a major role to play in optimizing storage performance. Here, we’ll examine exactly what makes ARM64 such an outstanding fit for storage, why Ceph and ARM are a killer combination, and where traditional x86 systems fall short.

Why is ARM Better Suited for Storage than x86?

With some edge case exceptions, the ARM64 processor is better suited for raw storage when compared to a traditional x86 chip because it properly balances compute performance and energy efficiency. The x86 architecture, by contrast, tends to focus more on compute which is at odds with the unique requirements of storage. Using too much compute for storage means you’ll realize negative trade-offs in cost, complexity and power usage, along with component and data failure rates.

SoftIron’s HyperDrive™ has these four key benefits when compared to bulk storage built on an x86 based architecture:

  • Increased reliability
  • Faster performance in aggregation
  • Reduced power usage
  • Lower cost 

Performance Results: How ARM64 Stacks up to x86 

Here’s an example of how a storage device’s processor directly impacts performance. The results are taken from a third-party comparison of how the SoftIron storage appliance performed against an x86 dual socketed Intel® Xeon® E5 based server.

44% Faster Random Cached Access

For cached access, the SoftIron appliance demonstrated read performance that was particularly strong for smaller objects. In this pattern of access, the SoftIron cluster had a peak read bandwidth of 606 MB per second and the reference platform had a peak write bandwidth of 740 MB per second.

The SoftIron read performance was very strong, peaking at 3300 MB per second, far exceeding the reference platform’s peak read bandwidth of 2294 MB per second, an astounding 44% faster than the reference system. Visit SoftIron’s website for more information and all the performance results.

The powerful combination of ARM64 and Ceph were critical for the SoftIron appliance to achieve these stunning results.

Why is ARM such a Good Fit for Storage?

ARM64 has some unique characteristics that make it ideal for storage including:

  • ARM Has the Right Amount of Power for Storage

Traditional x86 chips don’t perform well in the aggregation of media, and shine only at shallow connectivity for point performance – they have more compute than is generally needed for storage which results in extra heat being generated. Too much heat in a storage appliance drives up power costs and lowers efficiency, and it’s also a common source of data unreliability due to excessive heat exposure to the storage media. It’s a vicious cycle that poorly impacts your storage, and it all starts with using the wrong silicon for the job.

  • ARM uses a System on a Chip (SoC) Architecture

ARM uses an SoC (System on a Chip) approach, not a chipset like x86. An SoC is the same type of integrated circuit used by the mobile computing market, where integration benefits result in better input and output and total aggregated throughput at lower heat.

This is in contrast with traditional motherboard-based architectures, like x86, where the components are separated based on function and connected through an aggregation point. SoCs combine all the components into a single integration which improves performance and reduces power consumption.

  • AMD’s ARM64 shines in Software-Defined Storage

AMD’s ARM64 server chip, marketed as Opteron A1100, is very well-suited for storage because it requires low power while balancing compute performance and energy efficiency with deeply integrated and large-scale direct media connectivity. It runs I/O-intensive workloads with application-optimized performance and low power consumption. It’s also designed to run scale-out storage applications at minimum cost and maximum energy efficiency – all of which are the perfect combination for storage.

x86 platforms require enormous amounts of power in comparison, which in turn, create a lot of heat and then require massive amounts of cooling, both at an appliance level and a data center level. 

Lower operating temperatures have implications, not just for reducing power consumption costs, but also for increasing data reliability, which is critical for storage. Higher internal temperatures impact data failure rates and MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) for hard drives. AMD’s ARM64 uses less power so it’s more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable.

SoftIron HyperDrive reverses the airflow by comparison with what’s normally found in storage appliances, so the storage media gets cool ambient air first before it passes over the processors. This prevents the storage media from being ‘cooked’ by the processors, as can be found in traditional systems.

HyperDrive: Ceph on ARM64

ARM64 plays a critical role in giving HyperDrive its efficiency, outstanding performance, and low power consumption – all at a cost-effective price. Ceph is the premier open-source platform for software-defined storage so it was a logical choice to pair ARM with Ceph when HyperDrive was designed.

ARM64 is critical in exploiting Ceph’s massive functionality in the following ways:

  • Scalable performance: HyperDrive scales out horizontally using Ceph’s distributed storage functionality. By distributing the load, you get the best possible performance and as more HyperDrive appliances are added to the Ceph cluster, read/write performance and scalability increase exponentially.
  • Unprecedented speed and density: HyperDrive is designed so elements of Ceph are run in the hardware. This results in two major benefits: fast speed and incredible density. Since HyperDrive’s software and hardware are completely integrated, SoftIron has an unmatched level of control when optimizing HyperDrive’s speed. Also, ARM’s compact size SoC means that HyperDrive has a 1U form factor, which saves rack and data center space.
  • Optimized storage hardware: Both HyperDrive’s software and hardware are engineered and built from the ground up to do one thing extremely well: storage. The result is wire-speed performance that beats the industry’s x86 hardware standard for a storage appliance.
  • At the extreme end of the spectrum, ARM64 is so low power and so dense that multiple processors per 1U HyperDrive can be employed to directly scale density and performance as well as total storage, all with direct connectivity to every piece of storage media. The result is blistering performance. In contrast to x86 dual-socket arrangements, SoftIron scales direct connectivity and performance but does not attempt to scale a single compute engine. Scaling compute unnecessarily is not only pointless for storage, but is the opposite of the design needed to create performant results.

Where x86 shines

We’ve covered in detail the advantages of ARM64 based storage appliances above, however, x86 does deserve a seat at the storage table.

As a technology, x86 based storage appliances shine when connected to very high-speed media, such as NVMe and in cases when networking infrastructure and demands call for 40GbE and above speeds. SoftIron recognized this early on and carefully crafted its HyperDrive storage appliance portfolio to use ARM64 and x86 in the correct roles and configurations.

Take the Next Step

Taking your storage beyond the traditional x86 platform will give your organization many benefits: lower cost, better performance, outstanding reliability, and reduced power consumption. The ARM64 processor is ideally suited for storage because it balances power with efficiency. Learn more about how HyperDrive harnesses ARM and Ceph to transform enterprise storage at