Boosting Server Performance with NVMe Drives: High-Speed, Non-Volatile Data Storage

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As the need for reliable, high-performance data storage has increased in demand, some hosting providers have started to enhance web server performance with NVMe drives. By offering higher data-transfer rates, NVMe (Non Volatile Memory Express) drives function as a high-speed non-volatile data storage solution. In this article we will explore the concepts of volatile memory and data-transfer rates as well as discuss how to boost server performance with NVMe Drives.

Topics Include

Volatile Memory and Data Transfer Rates

What is Volatile Memory? 

Before we can begin discussing data storage technologies, it is important to understand some core concepts. The first concept to understand is that of volatile memory. Volatile memory, put simply, requires an input of power in order to store data. Once that power is lost, the data is lost as well. This form of memory is most commonly found in computer RAM, or Random Access Memory. While useful for storing temporary data, volatile memory is less suited for long-term data storage, as any power disruption could potentially result in a permanent loss of data. The trade-off for this is that volatile memory is often faster than non-volatile memory solutions. 

Non-volatile memory is a form of memory that can store data even without an input of power. This means that data stored is retained even after the computer system is powered off or if the power is interrupted. This is useful for long-term storage of data and is most commonly found in computer hard drives. Generally speaking, non-volatile memory refers to mechanical hard drives, solid state drives, and of course NVMe drives. While these all offer a non-volatile form of storage, they differ in how quickly they store and access data from memory. This value is measured by the data-transfer rate. 

What are Data-Transfer Rates? 

One of the most important metrics when looking at storage solutions is the data-transfer rate. This metric is the measurement of how much data is passing through a computer system in a given time, often expressed in terms of bits per second and bytes per second. When it comes to data storage, the data-transfer rate is partially determined by the interface between the storage device and the computer system itself. For example, mechanical hard drives and traditional solid state drives interface with computer systems via Serial ATA (SATA) connections. These connections offer transfer rates between 1.5 gigabits per second and 6 gigabits per second, depending on the generation of SATA technology being used. By comparison, devices connected via the latest version of the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express) interface, such as an M.2 NVMe drive, have transfer rates up to 128 gigabits per second.

By configuring your server with a storage solution that has high data-transfer rates you can enhance the performance of your server dramatically by reducing load times and speeding up data storage operations.   

Enhancing Server Performance with NVMe Drives

NVMe Drive Technology

As mentioned previously, NVMe is short for Non-Volatile Memory Express. While non-volatile memory has long existed in the form of mechanical hard drives and solid state drives, NVMe technology represents a significant step forward in data storage. NVMe drives mainly differ from traditional solid state drives by interfacing using the PCI Express interface rather than the SATA interface used by older technologies. 

As we explored in the previous section, PCI Express connections offer much higher data-transfer rates than SATA connections. Additionally, NVMe was designed to take full advantage of the parallelized nature of modern solid state drives. As a result, NVMe drives can enhance the performance of computer systems by increasing data throughput and reducing load times. 

Non-NVMe Servers and Data Storage Technology

Since NVMe technology is relatively new, most servers still use non-NVMe storage solutions. These servers typically use solid state drive technology, which is a form of flash memory storage somewhat similar to a detachable USB thumb-drive. This technology has mostly replaced its predecessor, the mechanical hard drive, which used rotating magnetic disks to store data. 

Mechanical hard drives have been plagued with reliability issues since their inception, largely due to the reliance on delicate moving parts that could potentially fail and critically damage the hard drive itself. As one could imagine, this type of failure in a web hosting environment would be catastrophic. This possibility led to the development of RAID systems which offered a Redundant Array of Independent Disks to serve as backups in case of drive failure. While these systems largely functioned as intended, data loss and service failures were still common after mechanical hard drive malfunctions. 

Fortunately, this issue was mostly resolved with the introduction of solid state drives or SSDs. These drives have no moving parts, making them less susceptible to failure than their mechanical counterparts. While this served as an improvement in many ways, SSDs still relied on the traditional SATA connections used by mechanical hard drives, limiting their ability to transfer data at higher rates. This is where NVMe technology comes in, as it is able to fully utilize the higher data-transfer rates available to devices connected via the PCI Express interface.

NVMe Servers

As NVMe technology becomes more affordable and accessible, hosting providers have begun to offer web servers that use NVMe drives as a storage solution. These servers benefit from the technology in two primary ways: speed and reliability. Since NVMe drives support higher data-transfer rates, the speed of many server-side operations can be dramatically increased. For example, a website on an NVMe server will load high-resolution images and video much more quickly than a non-NVMe server. This means less waiting for your website visitors and a better overall experience for all users. 

In addition to enhancing server performance by increasing data-transfer rates, NVMe servers offer a greater degree of reliability by utilizing high-speed, non-volatile memory. Traditionally, non-volatile memory solutions had much lower data-transfer rates than volatile memory solutions. This often resulted in a bottleneck of computer operations and forced computer systems to depend more heavily on RAM. By storing data in volatile memory, the system created a greater risk of data loss in the event of critical failure, making the entire system less reliable as a result. To mitigate this, NVMe drives combine the high data-transfer rates of the PCI Express interface with the non-volatile nature of NVMe technology and give you the best of both worlds: rapid, reliable long-term data storage.

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