Whether your website is being hosted on your own bare-metal server or in the cloud, the type of storage that is being used can greatly impact the performance and stability of your site as well as what your visitors experience when navigating through it. Before getting into the specifics, let’s look at some of the physical components that help make up a cloud environment, bare-metal server, and even a laptop or desktop computer.
This is the brains of a computer system. A CPU where all of the instructions are executed for all devices and programs. It is what allows every component within a computer system (or infrastructure) to interact.
Memory acts as temporary storage in a computer system keeping information on an integrated chip used by the computer’s operating system, software, and hardware. The data written in memory isn’t the same as what is stored on your hard drive. When your computer opens a program, the program is opened from the hard drive and then stored into memory where is can interconnect with other resources (such as the processor) at higher speeds. Unlike data being written to a hard drive, data written to volatile memory is only temporary and is not retained when the computer system is powered off. Non-volatile memory devices (such as hard drives) on the other hand, do retain the information they store, even after the machine loses power.
A storage drive is a non-volatile memory device that stores and retrieves data on a computer system. This data includes everything that the end user stores as well as the required files for the operating system and software programs that are installed. Most hosting providers leverage one or more Storage Area Networks within their environment to serve this purpose for all of the associated virtual machines. A Storage Area Network (SAN) is a system which provides access to combined data storage. The SAN is accessible to the virtual environment and servers so that storage appears as locally attached to the operating system. When it comes to computer systems and Storage Area Networks, there are two major types of media:
A spinning disk drive, or hard disk drive (HDD) is a mechanical device comprised of magnetic rotating disks (or platters). Data is written and read to the platter surfaces. The blocks of data written can be individually stored and received non-sequentially. In essence, there are a number of moving parts in a spinning disk hard drive, which means there is also several possible points of failure. Writing and retrieving data to a hard disk drive is also a significant process, which takes a toll on the performance of whatever platform is housing the data. This means that anytime someone is visiting your website or clicking on a link, the server’s disk is actually spinning to locate the information it needs. Although this delay may only be a few milliseconds with one user, it can be far more noticeable when your site is seeing heavy traffic periods.
A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a storage device that uses integrated circuitry as memory to store the data. It has no moving mechanical components which means that the process to retrieve and write data is far less intensive, allowing operations to be performed much more efficiently (and faster). The drive itself is also more durable and resistant to shock compared to traditional spinning disk drives. This results in less drive replacements and better power efficiency.
When your website is hosted on solid state media, the speed of your site is significantly improved and provides the end-user with a noticeable difference as well. Though solid state media is substantially more expensive, the enhancement in performance it provides is far worth it. Because an environment leveraging solid state media can handle far more disk read/write operations while retaining its stability, the servers within the environment see less latency and downtime, even during periods of high usage or web traffic.