Flash-based ZD-XL SQL Accelerator adds Virtualization, BPE and Blade Server Support

Speeding up mission critical applications running on databases like MS SQL Server can pay immediate dividends in a number of ways, such as increasing transaction-based revenue or improving analytics. For many companies, the way to do this has been with solutions like the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator from Toshiba’s OCZ unit. Now, this industry leading PCIe flash accelerator has been upgraded by adding support for virtualization, blade servers and SQL Server 2014 with BPE.

The ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 is the next generation of OCZ’s flash-based database acceleration solution using the company’s latest technology Z-Drive 4500 PCIe flash card, which was covered by StorageSwiss earlier this year. This upgrade adds support for Microsoft SQL Server 2014, including the Buffer Pool Extension (BPE) service, to the advanced caching, flash volume partitioning and other innovations that the ZD-XL 1.0 product introduced last year. ZD-XL 1.5 also supports VMware and Hyper-V and enables SQL Server to run in a blade environment while still being accelerated by the ZD-XL 1.5 running on remote servers.


ZD-XL 1.0 enabled users to partition part of the available flash capacity into a flash volume that could be used for pinning critical data such as database logs and tempDB files. These data sets are often read and written to simultaneously in multi-core systems and flash volumes ensures they’re always read from high-performance flash, maximizing SQL performance. On the caching side, ZD-XL introduced technologies that improved cache hit ratios by leveraging a process to load the cache with the most appropriate data sets before they’re needed and using caching policies that differentiate between transactional and analytical workloads.

Microsoft BPE

Microsoft’s Buffer Pool Extension service runs at the SQL Server instance level, allowing all databases to access a larger flash area and increase the percentage of page loads directly from flash. ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 allows users to accelerate specific databases in the same environment, focusing flash resources on the most critical SQL Server applications. It also expands the BPE capacity into the TBs to support larger databases.

Native Virtualization Support

ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 provides native support for VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V environments, deploying on the virtualization host and providing flash resource sharing and provisioning on demand. ZD-XL also supports HA configurations between hypervisors with Microsoft SQL Server’s AlwaysOn Availability Group.

Blade Servers

ZD-XL 1.5 enables SQL Server to run on blade servers with a remote connection to the server housing the ZD-XL PCIe resources. Together with support for Microsoft AlwaysOn Technology and virtualization platforms, this feature makes ZD-XL a good fit for hosting and colocation environments where SQL Server is running on low-profile servers that don’t have the slots to support PCIe cards.


OCZ reports that, using Transaction per Minute (TPM) metrics, a baseline of 50 virtual servers running on HDD storage delivered just under 45K TPM. The same infrastructure running local flash and caching acceleration with ZD-XL 1.5 delivered over 1Million TPM and over 800K TPM using remote cache and flash volumes, an increase of up to 22x better performance.

Direct Pass Caching

Cache performance is dependent on having the right data in flash before it’s needed, as indicated by a metric known as the “hit ratio”. Part of this caching decision can be made ahead of time (“pre-warming” the cache) based on previous data access patterns, knowledge of SQL Server and best practices. But part of this decision must also be made in real time. Instead of making these CPU-intensive caching decisions within the data path, which can increase latency, the ZD-XL’s Direct Pass Caching technology makes caching decisions based on dynamically optimized policies that are updated with a cache engine analysis module, out of band.

Workload awareness

The ZD-XL SQL Accelerator leverages a deep knowledge of SQL Server operation and data access patterns to improve cache performance, part of which is an understanding of the differences between transactional and analytical workloads. To support both of these scenarios, the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator maintains optimization policies that it loads for specific workloads, so it can leverage the data access analysis and cache pre-warming processes most effective for each workload.

For DBAs that aren’t storage experts, ZD-XL provides an intuitive GUI and tight integration with the SQL Server management console to simplify implementation and operation of this solution.

StorageSwiss Take

Flash is the obvious choice for improving database performance, but most databases are written for hard disk drives (HDDs) and flash doesn’t behave like spinning disk. To address this mismatch, flash vendors have developed products specifically to accelerate SQL Server, like OCZ’s ZD-XL SQL Accelerator.

Now, fresh off a successful acquisition by Toshiba, OCZ has raised the bar in this space with the next version of this product, adding support for Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 that actually improves the Buffer Pool Extension service. Also in this upgrade are support for VMware and Hyper-V running on blade servers, along with Microsoft AlwaysOn Availability Groups. Together, these features make the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator 1.5 an appealing solution for high-density data center environments.

OCZ is not a client of Storage Switzerland

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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