Hands On With Seagate’s New IronWolf 110 SSDs

Ironwolf 110 SSD

SSDs have been an option for NAS devices for a while. But until now there haven’t been any available to consumers that are optimized for use in a NAS. Seagate introduced its new IronWolf 110 SSDs — optimized for NAS — at CES and is planning to have them available for purchase soon. We’ve been able to get a couple of review units and put them through their paces. [Update: Seagate has let us know that the drives should be available for purchase starting on May 7th.]

Seagate IronWolf 110 SSDs by the Numbers

Seagate is selling the IronWolf 110 2.5-inch SSDSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce in several capacities: 240GB, 480GB, 960GB, 1.9TB, and 3.8TB. They all feature a 6Gb/s SATA interface, so they aren’t going to outpace many M.2 cache drives when it comes to sheer speed. But they can be used for either NAS caching or in all-SSD arrays to improve performance. Each drive comes with a five-year warranty and a two-year Rescue Data Recovery service. (I always wonder a bit about NAS products with drive data recovery, since hopefully systems are set up so that a drive failure won’t lose data, but clearly, there is a need or vendors wouldn’t offer it.)

One of the knocks on using SSDs in NAS units is that most of them aren’t designed for the heavy workload and amount of writing typically needed in a NAS. The IronWolf 110 drives list a TeraBytes Written lifetime (TBW) of 7000. That is substantially more than SSDs that are currently available for NAS use. Seagate also lists an impressive MTBF of 2 million hours. The drives consume 1.2 watts at idle, and a maximum of 3.2 watts. The drives also support SSD Trim, which I was successfully able to enable on a Synology NAS.

The drives feature Seagate’s new DuraWrite technology for optimizing data layout and write performance, as well as Seagate’s AgileArray firmware. Seagate says the drives will also support its IronWolf Health Management system soon.

Using a Seagate IronWolf 110 SSD in a Portable Network Video Recorder

As part of a series of articles on Nvidia’s new Jetson Nano, I’ve been building one into a network video recorder. The small size of the Nano makes it possible to actually have a complete, high-performance NVR at the heart of a video surveillance system that is actually portable. But to do 24 x 7 recording, I needed something more than a microSD card or thumb drive. Plus, as an NVR — basically a purpose-built NAS — having a drive that could handle the heavy write load was needed. The IronWolf 110 is perfect for the task. The Nano had no problem connecting to it over USB and setting it up for recording. In the case of the Nano, the 110 did require external power, while a lower-power M.2 drive I had laying around could be powered by the Nano itself.

Using an IronWolf 110 SSD in a NAS

There are a couple of ways to deploy an SSD inside a NAS. The first is simply as a higher-performance (and higher-cost) alternative to a spinning hard drive. An SSD can either be a fully independent volume or a primary storage tier with data being synchronized to a backing store on a regular basis. The other way is as a cache for an existing volume if your NAS model supports that functionality. I did some experiments with both options using two different NAS units. The first is our office workhorse Synology DS1517+ with a 10 Gbps network connection and a 25TB volume of photos, video, and code. The other is a newer-model Synology DS1019+ connected over more-common Gigabit Ethernet.

My first test was a simple comparison of a single-drive array configured with a typical NAS hard drive versus one with an IronWolf 110 SSD over a 1Gbit Ethernet. The results were almost identical, with sequential reads and writes limited by the network:

Synology 1Gbit 1-drive HDD 1GByte test

Synology DS1019+ 1 GByte test over 1 Gbps Ethernet with a single NAS hard drive array

Synology DS1019+ 1Gbit 1-drive Ironwolf 110 SSD 1GByte test

Synology DS1019+ 1 GByte test over 1 Gbps Ethernet with a single NAS IronWolf 110 SSD array.

Switching to a Synology DS1517+ connected point-to-point over a 10 Gbps link to a client workstation started to show some differences. Running the same single-drive comparison, the SSDSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce produced double the sequential write performance:

Synology DS1517+ 10Gbit 1-drive Ironwolf Pro HDD 1GByte test

Synology DS1517+ 10 Gbps link and 1-drive IronWolf Pro HDD 1GByte array.

Synology DS1517+ 10Gbit 1-drive Ironwolf 110 SSD 1GByte test

Synology DS1517+ 10 Gbps and 1-drive IronWolf 110 SSD array, 1 GByte transfers.

Like its Nytro drives, the IronWolf 110 drives support Seagate’s Tunable Capacity feature. Using its SeaTools application, you can switch a drive to a higher-performance mode at the cost of about 25-30 percent of its capacity. Seagate says the result is an improvement of up to 120 percent in random write performance. Setting the 4TB version of the drive to performance mode cost about 1TB of storage.

Note that these quick tests with CrystalDiskMark fall far short of a real SSD benchmark. We didn’t have time to fill and refill the drives to get a better sense of long-term, real-world performance, for example.

Using an IronWolf 110 SSD as a NAS Cache

SSD caching in a NAS can be a mixed blessing. Simply sticking an SSD in front of an existing volume can actually slow things down a bit if you’re not hitting the cache very often. And if you have an existing array with enough hard drives to let your NAS do reads and writes in parallel, you may already be maxing out what’s possible with your NAS’s CPU and network connection — especially if you are running over 1 Gbps Ethernet. Remember also that each client computer is doing some of its own caching, so caching on the NAS is more important if you have several users all accessing the same files. I had a hard time generating a workload from a single client that would do justice to the SSD cache. It took launching file-intensive tasks on several clients before the cache hit rate on the NAS perked up and it felt like it was helping performance.

Sample data analyzing performance of SSD cache on a Synology NAS

Sample data analyzing the performance of SSD cache on a Synology NAS.

If you have an SSD to experiment with, it might be worth sticking it in your NAS and looking at how it affects performance before spending a lot of money.

Conclusion

Seagate hasn’t released final pricing for the IronWolf 110 SSDs, but they are likely to come with a higher price tag than similar drives without all their additional features. The bottom line tradeoffs on whether to spend the money on IronWolf 110 SSDs are similar to deciding how much you want to invest in your NAS hard drives. Just like you pay more for a NAS-friendly drive like Seagate’s IronWolf Pro or Western Digital Red NAS drive, you’ll pay more for the IronWolf 110 SSD than a repurposed desktop offering. In exchange, you get one designed to handle the workload that doesn’t consume much power, has a five-year warranty, and two years of data rescue service.

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