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Benchmarks Can Answer Solid-State Drive Question

Sears and other retailers use a company called richrelevance to help personalize product recommendations for their online customers. Richrelevance tracks customer preferences and Website habits, analyzes the data, and develops profiles on consumers so e-commerce sites can better target product and service recommendations for customers' individual interests during visits to retail Websites.

"The recommendations that we send to Website consumers are built by us several times a day, and are based on a mathematical model," says Elya Kurktchi, the company's senior director of IT and operations. To process this data, richrelevance runs five data centers that use a mix of Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL) computers to host Web servers and applications, with load balancers to ensure that the work is evenly distributed for maximum processing efficiency.

"Each data center deploys a highly distributed network architecture, which is why load balancing and the ability to concurrently process transactions on many servers and disks is critical," Kurktchi says. "Nevertheless, we were discovering that on our consumer-facing runtime servers that supported our retailers' Websites, the personalized 'buy' recommendations that ultimately were presented to consumers also had to travel to disk when there was a need to access older data that was not stored in cache. Whenever we had to access a hard drive during the course of running a mathematical model for a recommendation that we would send to a consumer, we encountered latency of up to 100 milliseconds. This affected our response time to consumers."

That isn't good for online retailers, for whom response time is crucial. Richrelevance thought solid-state drive (SSD) technology might be the key to reducing latency and improving response times, so it decided to benchmark SSDs from several vendors against the performance of its existing hard drives.

"SSDs had the capability to respond to the mathematical model formulation and to deliver quick response to consumers," Kurktchi says. "We recognized that the reads of our hard drives had become a bottleneck, and that new generation SSDs could come very close in performance to what we were caching in RAM [random access memory] on our servers."

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