Press Release

Microsoft Nearly Doubles IOPS using Seagate Exos with MACH.2 Dual-Actuator Technology


Seagate Exos 2X14 enterprise hard drive features groundbreaking MACH.2 dual-actuator technology

Seagate’s new Exos 2X14 enterprise hard drive is the first to integrate Seagate’s groundbreaking MACH.2™ multi-actuator technology, and is being tested by customers now for data center deployments. MACH.2 has demonstrated its benefits over single-actuator drives for many applications including content delivery networks (CDNs), video streaming, mail servers, backup/shuttle services, Hadoop, cloud applications, and more.

Microsoft is anticipating great success with Seagate’s Exos 2X14 enterprise hard drives with MACH.2 technology. The goal: maintain the IOPS required for some of Microsoft’s cloud services including Azure and the Microsoft Exchange Online email service, while increasing available storage capacity per data-center slot. With early tests completed, MACH.2 has demonstrated that it achieves the anticipated benefits for high-IOPS workloads.

Microsoft tests Seagate Exos 2X14 with MACH.2 dual-actuator technology

Microsoft has completed its initial round of functional deployment testing of the Exos 2X14, including full infrastructure testing for interoperability and compatibility with the data center infrastructure, product robustness, reliability and ease of integration with its Project Olympus system architecture — as well as the tests on the performance increase MACH.2 provides, which is the key advantage IT architects are looking for.

Microsoft partner architect Aaron Ogus has worked directly with Seagate from the time our MACH.2 technology was in early development, with an eye to deploy the technology for the Microsoft Cloud space.

“We did a lot of early testing on Exos 2X14 engineering development units and have now tested out Seagate’s Exos 2X14 CTUs (early production customer test units), and based upon that analysis we’ve found we are getting close to twice the throughput and IOPS, which are the improvements we expected to achieve with the MACH.2 technology,” says Ogus.

To evaluate the capabilities of the MACH.2 drives, Microsoft has been using proven tools such as its Microsoft Exchange Server Jetstress tool, which simulates Exchange 2013 and Exchange 2016 disk I/O load on a server to verify the performance and stability of a disk subsystem. Microsoft has tested sequential throughput (simulating backup operations or streaming) and random read IOPS testing (simulating hyperscale and CDN workloads) among others.

“We’ve been simulating workloads for some time,” says Ogus, “and as Seagate’s MACH.2 technology development has progressed, we’ve partnered with Seagate to make sure the performance MACH.2 delivers meets our business requirements. The goal has been to achieve close to two times the throughput compared to the single-actuator drives currently deployed, and our tests show MACH.2 has delivered that goal.”

MACH.2 solves cloud data center needs like IOPS-per-terabyte and cost-per-terabyte

Cloud customers deploy large fleets of 3.5-inch HDDs in their data centers and manage their application storage nodes across multiple devices, spread across multiple racks. In order to meet their Service Level Agreements (SLAs), these cloud customers need to achieve a certain level of performance, measured in IOPS (I/Os per second) and command latency, across the deployed HDD storage capacity. This required performance is characterized as IOPS-per-terabyte (IOPS/TB) at a particular latency.

Data center architects also look at enterprise SSDs as one way to provide high IOPS. That can make sense depending on the balance of various needs for each application including capacity requirements, IOPS, throughput, environmental costs like cooling, and cost. But with their lower cost-per-terabyte and higher capacities, hard drives provide the most effective storage tier for leveraging capacity — if the HDDs can provide the necessary IOPS.

Seagate MACH.2 technology addresses the IOPS/TB challenge by using two actuators that can transfer IOs independent of each other within a single HDD, creating parallelism within a single hard drive that enables up to double the performance. Within a drive, the top half of the read/write heads are addressed by one actuator, while the bottom half of the heads are addressed by a second actuator. Each actuator addresses one half the total capacity of the drive.

How MACH.2 benefits Microsoft’s Exchange server architecture

In every cloud data center, floor space is at a premium — and for many applications cloud providers are trying to get more IOPS out of the same slot.

MACH.2 drives will be deployed in support all of Microsoft’s CSP services including Azure and Exchange — the breadth of applications sharing floor space means it’s at a premium. Microsoft wants to minimize slot costs, which is a function of floor space, power, and cooling among other things. When a customer finds IOPS trending down on the types of drives installed, they have to look at other avenues such as adding dual-actuator hard drives.

Microsoft’s Exchange architecture is constantly tuned to maximize server throughput. Seagate’s MACH.2 technology will allow Exchange to continue deploying larger and larger HDDs while maintaining SLAs for latency. Seagate’s new platform is allowing Microsoft to deploy higher capacity drives like the 14TB Seagate 2X14, as Seagate’s MACH.2 technology lets them get the throughput they need to support Exchange at that capacity.

MACH.2 prevents “stranded capacity”

As long as a particular HDD device meets or exceeds the threshold IOPS/TB as required by the customer, all of the capacity on the HDD device can be utilized. If the IOPS/TB on an HDD drops below a defined threshold based on application workloads, the customer cannot utilize all of the drive capacity with the targeted workload — a problem known as “stranded capacity.”

James Borden, cloud product manager at Seagate, explains the dilemma posed by stranded capacity.

“As hard drives get increasingly higher in capacity, up until now the ability to transfer data faster has not advanced commensurately,” says Borden. “Without multi-actuator technology, once you exceed a certain capacity you’re no longer able to deliver the expected quality of service, because you’re limited by each drive’s maximum throughput.”

“For example, in order to maintain the expected quality of service, a 16TB drive requires twice the maximum throughput capability of an 8TB drive. As your application starts to exceed the maximum IOPS capability of a storage device, the only way to solve that is to put less data on the device — and that equates to stranded capacity.”

“One partial solution to the wasted capacity is to use a ‘short stroke’ strategy,” explains Borden. “You put a subset of your data on the outer diameter of a drive, and use the internal diameter to store less important data that doesn’t need to be delivered with the same quality-of-service metric. In that way, at least you won’t have a hard drive that’s only two-thirds full. But short stroking still makes data management more complex, and you can’t be certain you’ll always have full utilization of your installed capacity.”

But when deploying Exos 2X14 drives with MACH.2, short stroking is no longer necessary. A data center can install a 14TB dual-actuator drive in each slot. To the application, it looks very similar to the high throughput provided by two 7TB drives — but it fits into a single slot.

Seagate MACH.2 technology developed with Microsoft specifically to meet CSP goals

The design and features of Seagate’s first Exos 2X14 dual-actuator hard drives respond directly to our customers’ needs. Microsoft has been a very close collaborative partner during the entire development and subsequent rollout of our MACH.2 multi-actuator technology.

“We’ve been working with Microsoft in their data centers as our MACH.2 development progressed; they’ve been very supportive, from the initial conception on,” says Chris Hensley, a Seagate global sales lead for cloud applications. “Our MACH.2 multi-actuator architecture has evolved along with our ongoing conversations with Microsoft about how to solve what they defined as the IOPS-per-terabyte issue.”

“Microsoft has been at our side every step of the way, and we’ve involved them in every part of the process, and benefited from their insights all the way from very early drive samples,” Borden agrees.

“Microsoft worked with us early in the architecture of this device to make sure what we were envisioning was something they could actually deploy,” says Borden. “That has been key to developing the first iteration of the MACH.2 architecture, using dual LUNs with SAS — which fits Microsoft’s data center architecture and reasonably reflects what other large CSPs may do.”

As the Exos 2X14 dual-actuator hard drive program moves forward and expands, the drive family will be available in multiple flavors and SKUs to accommodate a full profile of enterprise use cases.

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