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OCZ aims to improve SQL Server performance with new acceleration card

The company has tailored its caching algorithm for Microsoft's database

OCZ Technology has started offering to beta testers is ZD-XL SQL Accelerator, a card that uses solid state drive (SSD) storage to improve the performance of SQL Server databases.

For OCZ, the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator represents a new direction. Instead of of just offering a general platform, the product has been developed with just one application in mind. It is also OCZ's first entry into the Windows world.

"What we did was take our acceleration software we developed for VMware and Linux and tailored it for SQL Server," said Oded Ilan, general manager at OCZ Israel, when interviewed in the company's booth at the CeBIT trade show.

That work has included optimizing OCZ's caching algorithm to work better with the type of I/O that SQL Server generates, and allowing it to locate so-called hot zones in the database.

"The trick is really to make sure that you have the very latest and active data in the cache when you need it, and that is what our algorithm focuses on," said Ilan.

To make the product easy to use, the whole set-up is done using a wizard. It comprises of a flash PCI Express (PCIe) card and software dedicated to accelerating SQL performance in a Windows environment.

ZD-XL SQL Accelerator comes with either 1.6TB or 600GB storage. Because database sizes are increasing continuously, Ilan expects the larger version will be very popular. But the 600GB version's smaller footprint makes it a good fit for 1U servers, according to Ilan.

In general, users should expect between 5x to 20x performance improvements.

The beta testing has started, but OCZ is still looking for more enterprises interested in testing the product. It is expected to become generally available in May. Pricing has not yet been announced.

At CeBIT, OCZ also demonstrated the latest version of the its main product, VXL. In addition to caching and acceleration, the platform also comes with a number of storage features. The new version 1.3 includes a fault tolerant mode that allows a secondary VMware server to immediately take over if the primary one fails without the need for applications to reboot, Ilan said.

"Usually you need to implement a SAN for that to work. But here there is no SAN, instead there is one PCIe flash device in each server and with our software we have a synchronous mirror between the two of them over 10 Gigabit Ethernet," Ilan said.

The choice of 10 Gigabit Ethernet came down to its popularity and low cost.

Another new feature allows IT managers to pre-load the cache with critical data on a pre-determined schedule. The feature can be used by organizations that have a lot of users running virtual desktops, for example.

"The users all come in a at 8 o'clock in morning and that applies tremendous pressure on the disk, and here we show the acceleration you get when booting from the cache as opposed to the disk," Ilan said.

The software has a recording system to help decide what data to populate the cache with.

In addition to the SSD storage, VXL also uses a DRAM storage tier up front. A typical configuration includes a few gigabytes of DRAM and a few terabytes of flash storage.

"All of the hottest transient data hits the DRAM tier first, and if it's a read-write, read-write, read-write it may not even reach the SSD. That protects SSD layer from excessive writes and helps us get the best usage out of the flash storage," Ilan said.

Transient data includes database transactions. Products like VXL have made it possible to virtualize more demanding applications, like databases, as well, according to Ilan.

OCZ has just started shipping VXL 1.3.

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