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3Ware TwinStor Information Sheet

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3ware TwinStor

 Architecture                              

 

TwinStor™ Technology: A Compelling Case for Multiple Drives in PCs, Servers and Workstations

 

(August 1999;November 2000; revised April 2002) 

 

Executive Summary

  

 

3ware’s TwinStor technology provides an optimized method of maintaining mirrored data on pairs of ATA disk drives. 
Because twin images of the data exist – one image on each drive – backup of valuable data is essentially accomplished 
each time data is written to the disks. 

 

This safeguard would benefit many of today’s computer systems, as most systems contain only a single disk drive that’s 
"protected" by expensive backup hardware and all too often forgotten. With the cost of storage rapidly declining, using a 
TwinStor-enabled ATA RAID controller, such as 3ware’s Escalade 7000 series, in conjunction with multiple ATA disk drives 
is an inexpensive backup solution that’s constantly at work protecting valuable data. 

 

While the inherent fault tolerance of this approach effectively solves backup woes, its prime benefit goes beyond protecting 
data: an even more compelling aspect of TwinStor is the dramatic performance boost that it also achieves while processing 
mirrored data. When data is accessed, TwinStor technology employs a profile that it maintains of the disks’ layout and an 
accumulated heuristic history of drive accesses, to dynamically distribute data retrieval between the drives such that 
movement of each disk arm is minimized – this reduces latency and facilitates streaming. Adaptive algorithms increase 
performance to the extent that the sequential read bandwidth approaches that of striped (RAID 0) drives and the random 
transaction rate exceeds that of striped and mirrored (RAID 1) solutions. 

 

A TwinStor-enabled controller plus low-cost ATA drives provide improved performance and fault tolerance over a single-drive 
configuration and benefit a wide range of applications in home, small office, and server environments. 

 

Introduction

  

 

Desktop PCs and small servers are becoming increasingly critical in businesses and homes. The data stored on these 
systems, from financial records to digital photographs, is often irreplaceable. Disk drive reliability is very high, but the 
possibility of a drive failure does exist and it is important to make sure that the data remains secure and is not lost. There are 
many different procedures for backing up data but none are entirely satisfactory. Mirroring the data to a second drive 
provides an effective and less costly solution than daily back up to secondary media or remote servers. 

 

Consumers will pay premium prices to obtain the highest frequency CPUs but system vendors have typically offered few 
choices for improving I/O performance (even though many applications are more sensitive to I/O speed than CPU speed). 
Now that CPU speeds have increased to levels of 1GHz and beyond, this disparity often results in a glaring I/O subsystem 
bottleneck that hinders application responsiveness. There is however an opportunity to improve the performance of many 
applications by combining transfer and transaction rates of multiple drives. 

 

 


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The solution that accomplishes this is 3ware’sTwinStor technology, which simultaneously provides the fault tolerance of disk 
mirroring (RAID 1) and the read performance of striping (RAID 0) with superior transaction rates. By using a TwinStor-
enabled ATA RAID controller [1], such as 3ware’s Escalade 7000, along with low-cost ATA drives, a compelling case can be 
made for multiple drives per PC. 

 

This white paper discusses trends in data backup strategies and compares the associated costs with the approach offered 
by TwinStor technology. It also goes under the hood of the technology and uncovers many of the groundbreaking 
techniques. Within the descriptions of the design concepts, brief tutorials of RAID architecture and disk drive hardware 
components, offer insights into how TwinStor’s algorithms are able to achieve such striking performance gains. 

 

Having laid this groundwork, the discussion concludes with performance and cost comparisons with SCSI that further 
highlight the benefits of the TwinStor technology. It becomes clear that there are many applications and markets that can 
effectively make use of TwinStor to prevent data loss and increase storage system efficiency. 

 

Total cost of ownership

  

 

The economic justification for mirroring is based on the cost of the second drive compared to the backup and recovery costs 
after a drive failure. Depending on the business environment, backups can be done several different ways. 

 

Corporate desktop PCs and small servers are often backed up automatically over a network. The total cost of this backup 
strategy can be quite high when all costs (hardware and software, increased network capacity and system administrators’ 
time) are included. A large corporation recently spent over $1000 per PC for a centralized hierarchical backup system. Disk 
mirroring would have solved the daily backup problem at a much lower cost. 

 

Small businesses typically rely on manual backups to tape or other removable media. Total cost of ownership includes risk of 
losing everything if a backup was not done recently. Even when backups have been done properly, a drive failure may cause 
any business to close – requiring down time-to repair the hardware, reload the operating system and applications and 
restore the data. 

 

Many home PCs and non-critical business PCs do not adhere to any regular backup procedure, even though the effort to 
recover from a disk failure could be significant. For these users, the increased performance combined with the added fault 
tolerance may be a compelling reason to spend a modest amount for a second drive. 

 

Protecting data in this fashion is one of the initial philosophies that spawned RAID technology. 

 

Background of RAID

  

 

Mirrored disks have been common in the industry for many years. Disk mirroring, also called shadow sets or RAID 1, uses a 
pair of disks with the identical data. Every write is sent to both drives to maintain identical copies at all times. Disk mirroring 
is used in many commercial systems and has been the subject of academic research at the University of California at 
Berkeley [2] and elsewhere. 

 


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Some of the early implementations of mirrored-disk systems attempted to improve random read performance by taking 
advantage of the separate actuators. The usual technique is to alternate read accesses to the two drives, or to assign reads 
to drives based on the one that would have the shortest seek time to reach the data. This technique can double the random 
read performance, but does nothing to improve the streaming read rate because a single drive services each read. 

 

Disk striping of two drives, known as RAID 0, places even blocks of data on one drive and odd blocks on another drive. The 
main disadvantage of a standard RAID 0 configuration is that reliability is worse than a single drive because a failure of 
either drive leaves no complete copy of any file. 

 

RAID 5 is another RAID level that provides a way to recover from a drive failure. For each block of data, the parity of N-1 
blocks is computed and stored on the nth drive. The primary drawbacks of a RAID 5 configuration is that it requires at least 
three drives and it sharply decreases the write performance relative to a single drive. 

 

RAID 10, a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0, provides both data redundancy and improved streaming performance. The 
drawback of a standard RAID 10 configuration is that it requires four drives but cannot attain more than two times the 
performance of a single drive. 

 

3ware’s TwinStor Technology

  

 

TwinStor’s mirrored approach optimizes the performance of RAID 1 configurations by algorithmically distributing operations 
between each drive such that the mechanical overhead of each disk is kept to a minimum. 3ware’s new algorithms for 
intelligent performance optimization, achieve this in several ways:  

• 

Profiling disk drives to obtain drive-specific parameters needed for optimal performance  

• 

Optimizing performance with adaptive algorithms based on the recent access history  

• 

Optimizing for applications that have special performance or reliability requirements  

 

These techniques are applied to pairs of drives, which maintain identical copies of data. All writes are sent to both drives, but 
reads are free to access whichever copy of the data gives the best performance. Profiling and adaptation are required to 
carefully orchestrate the actions of both drives to optimize for the best average performance. 

 

To gain insights into how these optimizations are implemented requires a basic understanding of disk drive technology: 

 

A drive contains one or more platters, each with two surfaces and a head per surface. Typical drives today have two to eight 
heads. All heads are attached to a single actuator, but the fine precision needed to position a head over the data means that 
the servo electronics can position the actuator to read from only one head at any point in time. Data is organized in tracks; a 
track contains all the data positioned beneath one head around the entire circumference. Typical disks today have a few 
hundred 512-byte sectors per track. Outer tracks are longer than inner tracks and hence have more data. Most drives today 
divide groups of tracks into a small number of zones (16, for instance) and the number of sectors per track stays constant 
within a zone. Data is typically formatted by starting at the outside of the disk at one head, sequencing through the rest of the 
heads, and then seeking to the next track location closer to the inside of the disk. 

 


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Drives are usually thought of as random access devices. Any drive must seek to position the actuator and wait for the 
desired data to rotate until it is under the head. Seeks to nearby tracks are much faster than seeks to distant tracks, and 
seek times can vary from a few milliseconds (ms) to a few tens of ms. The rotational latency depends on the RPM of the 
drive, with 5,400 RPM, 7,200 RPM and 10,000 RPM drives having maximum latencies of 11.1 ms, 8.3 ms and 6 ms 
respectively. During sequential accesses within a track, there is no waiting for rotational latency because the needed data is 
already under the read head. When a sequential access extends beyond a track, a delay of a few ms is required to switch 
heads. Data is formatted with some skew so the read head is automatically in position to retrieve the next sequential data 
upon completion of the head switch – this eliminates an entire revolution of the disk that would otherwise be necessary to get 
to the position of the data. Reading data sequentially can be orders of magnitude faster than reading the data with short 
random accesses. 

The basic idea behind 3ware’s TwinStor technology is to reduce seek times and avoid rotational latency by using intelligent 
algorithms executed by the embedded microprocessor on the disk switch. The high-level flowchart in Figure 1 shows the 
separate profiling and execution steps. 

 

 

Figure 1. TwinStor Technology Flowchart

  

 

Profiling

  

 

The first time a new disk is encountered by the storage switch, the profiling program scans the disk to find the zone breaks, 
the number of tracks per zone, and other performance information. The result of the profiling is stored in a zone table in a 
small reserved section on each drive. During execution, the storage switch records an access history to determine whether 
the current request is best considered a sequential or random access. Separate optimization techniques are applied to these 
two types of accesses 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 


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Adaptive Algorithms

  

 

For random accesses, a new adaptive algorithm uses the history of previous requests to assign read operations in a way 
that minimizes the movement of the disk arm. These optimizations have shown superlinear performance gains on random 
read operations. Superlinear means that performance gains are better than linear, with two drives giving greater than two 
times the performance of one drive. In the results shown in Figure 2, the performance gain is about 2.3 times that of a single 
drive. The reason for this outstanding result is that there are twice as many actuators and each travels less distance than the 
average distance when only one drive is used. 

 

In most RAID 1 configurations, each I/O is directed to one of the disks and there is no performance improvement if small 
fixed-length stripes are read alternately from the two drives. For instance, if disk 0 reads the even 32K stripes and disk 1 
reads the odd 32K stripes, both disks transfer half the time and spend the other half of the time waiting for the head to pass 
over data being read by the other drive. This phenomenon is shown on the left side of Figure 2 with small stripe sizes. As the 
stripe size is increased, it eventually passes the point where the amount of data being skipped is equal to one track. 

 

At this point the data rate increases sharply because there is almost no time wasted for the head to pass over data being 
transferred by the other drive. At the first peak, the data rate is not quite equal to reading the drive sequentially because one 
extra disk skew is required when skipping the track read by the other drive. Later peaks have higher bandwidth because the 
extra skew is spread across more tracks of transferred data. The position of the peaks and the performance at each peak 
vary depending on the bit density, RPM of the drive and the particular zone being measured. 

 

 

Figure 2. Performance Sensitivity to Stripe Size

  

 

The storage switch takes advantage of this phenomenon by setting a stripe size at one of these peaks and simultaneously 
accessing alternating stripes from the two drives. In this way, long sequential reads run at nearly twice the rate of a single 
drive. The peaks shift to the left at each zone crossing when moving from the outer diameter of the disk toward the inner 
tracks. For optimal performance, the zone table is consulted at each zone crossing in order to set the stripe size to the 
optimal value for that zone. The combination of the sequential and random access methods gives improved performance 
over a wide range of applications 

 

 


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Performance

  

 

These TwinStor algorithms are implemented within 3ware’s Escalade ATA RAID controllers to further enhance its impressive 
level of throughput. Escalade card’s on-board CPU and firmware support this logic and combine it with its packet-switched 
architecture to achieve breakthrough performance levels from standard, low-cost ATA drives. This results in performance 
and affordability that can’t be attained with competing RAID solutions. 

 

Previously, the highest performing disk architectures were implemented with SCSI drives and RAID controllers from 
Adaptec, Mylex and others. While SCSI drives were higher in performance than ATA drives, the gap has now closed and 
many manufacturers use identical head disk assemblies for their ATA and SCSI drives. The market dominance of ATA (87% 
of the unit volume) assures that the value and availability of high-performance ATA drives will continue to exceed that of 
SCSI drives. 

 

Figure 3 is a graph comparing a single SCSI drive to a pair of drives using TwinStor technology. Both the SCSI and ATA 
drives are 7200 RPM. The transfer rate of the ATA drive is slightly higher than the SCSI drive. The access time of the SCSI 
drive is faster than the ATA drive. The street price of the SCSI drive is more than double that of the ATA drive, making the 
TwinStor solution less expensive by about 10%. (Escalade controller prices have not been included here, as prices vary 
among vendors.) 

 

In this comparison, 3ware’s TwinStor solutions win in all categories. The streaming read and random read rates are 
significantly higher than the single SCSI drive. The write rate is slightly higher for the TwinStor solution, showing that the 
need to write to both disks does not reduce performance relative to writing to a single disk. Not shown is the huge advantage 
in fault tolerance with the TwinStor solution. Using 9.1 GB drives, a terabyte requires just over 100 drives. With no 
redundancy and an expected failure rate of one per 500K hours, the SCSI drives would be expected to have about one 
failure every six months. With the data redundancy in the TwinStor solution, data loss happens only when a second drive 
fails before there is a chance to repair the first failure. The mean time to failure (MTTF) of the pair is determined based on a 
mean time to repair (MTTR) of three days using the standard formula: MTTFdual = MTTF2/2MTTR [3]. The chance that the 
second drive will fail during the three-day repair time is extremely small (over 1,700 years per terabyte). 

 

 

Figure 3. Single SCSI to TwinStor Comparison

  

 

 


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Figure 4 shows the comparison between a pair of SCSI drives mirrored in a popular controller with a standard RAID 1  

configuration and a pair of ATA drives with TwinStor in an Escalade RAID card. In this comparison, the price advantage over 
SCSI is even more dramatic. The streaming performance is 73% better, because RAID 1 cannot take advantage of the 
second drive to improve streaming rates. Random read rates are about the same, even though the SCSI drives used for this 
test have much faster seek rates than the ATA drives used. The superlinear performance gain obtained from the adaptive 
random optimization completely makes up for the difference in the drive performance. 

 

Comparison with other classes of SCSI drives shows similar advantages for 3ware’sTwinStor technology. For instance, 
twinned ATA drives compared to a single high-end, 10,000-RPM SCSI drive shows similar overall performance and much 
better streaming read performance at a much lower cost. 

 

 

Figure 4. RAID 1 to TwinStor Comparison

  

 

Figure 5 shows a four-drive SCSI RAID 5 system (populated with 9.1 GB drives) using an Adaptec RAID controller compared 
to two TwinStor pair of 18.2 GB ATA drives and the 3ware Escalade card. Each TwinStor pair appears as a single 18.2 GB 
volume to the NT file system and the two volumes are combined into a single volume with NT software striping. Again, all 
results favor the TwinStor solution. Capacity is greater because the four-drive RAID 5 solution gives a usable capacity of 
three times the 9.1 GB drives, while 3ware’s TwinStor solution gives twice the capacity of the 18.2 GB drives. Because of the 
large penalty for writes in RAID 5, the write rates are greatly improved with the TwinStor solution. The WinBench 99 result 
shows that the overal performance of TwinStor far exceeds the RAID 5 solution and delivers higher capacity with a lower 
cost. 

 

 

Figure 5. RAID 5 to TwinStor Comparison

  

 

 


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Markets

  

 

The potential markets for 3ware’s TwinStor technology are extremely wide-ranging and should be receptive to improvements 
in performance and reliability. In the home market where cost is extremely important, the TwinStor technology will be 
important because many users lack the expertise and tools to back up data regularly or to recover the operating system, 
applications, and data after a failure. This safeguard, coupled with the ability to “future-proof” the system, may be attractive 
to a large portion of the home market 

 

The "SOHO" (small office, home office) market is a natural utilization of TwinStor technology. A disk failure could destroy 
valuable records and close a small business until the system is recovered. Even if the business never has a disk failure, the 
peace of mind and increased performance would justify the cost of the second drive and switch. 

 

3ware’s TwinStor technology is especially strong in applications which are read intensive and which have a mix of small and 
large object sizes, the typical transactions performed by a Web server. Systems with the TwinStor technology can be 
effective in the Web hosting environment and will often show better overall performance than any other way of utilizing a 
second drive, with the added bonus of fault tolerance. 

 

On-line transaction processing (OLTP) is another area where systems utilizing TwinStor technology will benefit. In the past, 
OLTP transaction sizes have been very small, with records of just a few hundred bytes, but the trend is definitely towards 
richer transactions with image, video and audio content. For small, large, or mixed transactions, TwinStor technology 
provides a good solution at an extremely low cost per transaction. Applications may range from point-of-sale controllers to 
back-end database systems. 

 

High streaming rates are required in systems that process real-time video and audio. 3ware’s TwinStor technology provides 
this streaming bandwidth and the backup to prevent loss of data when a disk fails. The combination of these requirements 
makes the TwinStor technology a good fit for a variety of applications. 

 

Conclusion

  

 

3ware’sTwinStor technology provides a fault-tolerant solution that protects valuable data and improves read performance. 
This benefits a wide range of computer systems including home PCs, small business systems, on-line transaction point-of-
sale controllers, and streaming real-time audio/video processing platforms. The redundancy of data replaces other more 
costly data backup solutions and eliminates the dilemma that often arises when a drive failure occurs prior to the archival of 
irreplaceable data. 

 

Given these benefits of data protection and performance enhancement, we are likely to see an increase in the deployment of 
multiple drive computer systems that make use of TwinStor technology. 

 

 
 
 
 

 


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References

  

 

[1] "The 3ware StorSwitch Architecture", Technical White Paper, 3ware Inc., April 1999, www.3ware.com. Patterson, D. A.; 
Gibson, G. A.; and Katz, R. H. “A case for redundant arrays of inexpensive disks (RAID).” 
Proceedings of the 1988 ACM Conference on Management of Data (SIGMOD). ACM Press, 
[2] June 1988, 109-116. 
[3] Gray, J. and Siewiorek, D. “High-Availability Computer Systems.” Computer,Vol. 24 No. 9, Sept. 1991. 

 

Appendix A. Measurement data

  

 

 

 

SCSI-Seagate

 

 

 

ATA-Quantum

 

 

 

 

 

Barracuda (1 drive)

 

 

 

KA (Twin drives)

 

 

 

Capacity

 

9.1

 

GB

 

9.1

 

GB

 

Street Price

 

$375

 

 

 

$336

 

($168*2)

 

GB/$1000

 

24.3

 

 

 

27.1

 

 

 

Sequential Read

 

18.8

 

MB/s

 

32.1

 

MB/s

 

Random 2k Read

 

121

 

I/Os /sec

 

200

 

I/Os /sec

 

Sequential Write

 

17.9

 

MB/s

 

19.3

 

MB/s

 

WinBench HE Disk Test

 

13,300

 

 

 

16,200

 

 

 

Years to data loss per TB

 

0.51

 

 

 

1,761

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCSI-Seagate

 

 

 

ATA-Quantum

 

 

 

 

 

Barracuda (RAID 1)

 

 

 

KA (Twin drives)

 

 

 

Capacity

 

9.1

 

GB

 

9.1

 

GB

 

Street Price

 

$750

 

($375*2)

 

$336

 

($168*2)

 

GB/$1000

 

12.1

 

 

 

27.1

 

 

 

Sequential Read

 

18.6

 

MB/s

 

32.1

 

MB/s

 

Random 2k Read

 

201

 

I/Os /sec

 

200

 

I/Os /sec

 

Sequential Write

 

18.4

 

MB/s

 

19.3

 

MB/s

 

WinBench HE Disk Test

 

13,300

 

 

 

16,200

 

 

 

Years to data loss per TB

 

1,761

 

 

 

1,761

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCSI-Seagate

 

 

 

ATA-Quantum

 

 

 

 

 

Cheetah(JBOD)

 

 

 

KA (Twin drives)

 

 

 

Capacity

 

9.1

 

GB

 

9.1

 

GB

 

Street Price

 

$514

 

 

 

$336

 

($168*2)

 

GB/$1000

 

17.7

 

 

 

27.1

 

 

 

Sequential Read

 

26.1

 

MB/s

 

32.1

 

MB/s

 

Random 2k Read

 

155

 

I/Os /sec

 

200

 

I/Os /sec

 

Sequential Write

 

23.9

 

MB/s

 

19.3

 

MB/s

 

WinBench HE Disk Test

 

16,400

 

 

 

16,200

 

 

 

Years to data loss per TB

 

1

 

 

 

1,761

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCSI-Seagate

 

 

 

ATA-Quantum

 

 

 

Capacity

 

27.3

 

GB

 

36.4

 

GB

 

Street Price

 

$1,500

 

($375*4)

 

$900

 

($225*4)

 

GB/$1000

 

18.2

 

 

 

40.4

 

 

 

Sequential Read

 

52.7

 

MB/s

 

47.8

 

MB/s

 

Random 2k Read

 

317

 

I/Os /sec

 

379

 

I/Os /sec

 

Sequential Write

 

6.8

 

MB/s

 

21.9

 

MB/s

 

WinBench HE Disk Test

 

7,080

 

 

 

19,000

 

 

 

Years to data loss per TB

 

587

 

 

 

1,761

 

 

 

 

 


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Barracuda(RAID 5)

 

 

 

KA(2 pairs of Twins)

 

 

 

Capacity

 

27.3

 

GB

 

36.4

 

GB

 

Street Price

 

$1,500

 

($375*4)

 

$900

 

($225*4)

 

GB/$1000

 

18.2

 

 

 

40.4

 

 

 

Sequential Read

 

52.7

 

MB/s

 

47.8

 

MB/s

 

Random 2k Read

 

317

 

I/Os /sec

 

379

 

I/Os /sec

 

Sequential Write

 

6.8

 

MB/s

 

21.9

 

MB/s

 

WinBench HE Disk Test

 

7,080

 

 

 

19,000

 

 

 

Years to data loss per TB

 

587

 

 

 

1,761

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix B. Test conditions

  

 

System Configuration  

500MHz - Single Processor Pentium III - 128Meg SDRAM 
Windows NT 4.0 - w/Service Pack 5 
ATI Rage Pro Turbo w/ 8Meg- 1024x768, 64K Colors 
NEC 40X IDE CD-ROM  

 

 

 

 

 

ATA

 

Quantum Fireball Plus KA 9.1 G and 18.2 G, 7200 RPM

 

 

 

3ware Disk Switch 4 Controller

 

SCSI

 

Seagate ST39175LW Hard Drive 9.1G, 7200 RPM

 

 

 

Seagate Cheetah Hard Drive 9.1G, 10,000 RPM

 

 

 

Adaptec AAA-131U2 PCI RAID Controller

 

 

 

Prices from  www.dirtcheapdrives.com  8/14/99  

 

WinBench 99 tests on 2 GB Fat partition 
Iometer tests on Full Volume NTFS  

 

Reliability Assumptions 
7,200 RPM drives (Quantum and Seagate): 500K Hour MTBF per drive 
10,000 RPM drives (Cheetah): 1M hour MTBF 
Three-day repair time