EVE Online gets Solid State speed boost

Written by Geoff Richards

December 1, 2005 | 11:58

Tags: #fibre-channel #mmorpg #raid-array #solid-state-disk

Companies: #ccp-games #eve-online #texas-memory-systems

What do you do if you operate an MMORPG with the world's largest game universe and users start to complain that things are getting sluggish?

You're already running 150 IBM Blade servers but at peak times - over 15,000 simultaneous players - frequently accessed game features take a painful 20 seconds to load.

This was the challenge faced by the sysadmins at EVE Online recently. Even with ninja-fast RAID arrays, it was diagnosed that the database servers suffered from serious storage bottlenecks.

RAID works best when serving large chunks of data; EVE Online's busy servers were clogged up serving tiny pieces of data. Typical disk access times are 2-5ms (milliseconds, or thousandths/sec) and what was needed was a faster disk access time of 20-50µs (microseconds, or millionths/sec).

You can decrease a traditional hard drive's access time by increasing the rotational speed - the Western Digital Raptor drives are a bit-tech favourite because of their 10,000 RPM speed, and Seagate's Cheetah SCSI drives hit 15,000 RPM. However, there is a limit to how fast you can spin the platters before extreme forces start to creep in and spoil your fun.

The solution, then, is truly 21st Century and very, very cool: a 64GB Solid State RamSan-400 array from Texas Memory Systems. Rather than rotating platters, Solid State Disks (SSD) uses memory chips for storage and shifts the bottleneck back to waiting for the user to ask it to do something.

Forget SATA-II and even Ultra-320 SCSI: the RamSan-400 hooks up via a 4GB Fibre Channel interface and has 3000 MB/s random sustained external throughput. That's three gigabytes per second. Sustained. Importantly for EVE Online, it can also handle 400,000 I/Os per second, with a latency of less than 15µs. "We did consider upgrading to faster disks, but the specs for the RamSan were so insane that we had to look into it", said Jörundur Matthíasson, Database Manager for developer, CCP Games.

Within four days of installation, EVE Online set a new Peak Concurrent Player record with 17,032 playing at the same time, and the infrastructure is designed to scale up to 25,000 players simultaneously zooming around the one, massive game world. By switching to SSD, the EVE servers are now experiencing a 4000% increase in performance.

If you are interested in reading more, check out the full Case Study. While solid state drives are still super expensive and less capacious than their rotating cousins - the RamSan tops out at 128GB - we all know that pricing will come down and capacity will go up. Anyone who has experience total hard drive failure will appreciate the benefits of moving to a storage platform with no moving parts.

How soon we will get there is anyone's guess, but we expect this technology to be affordable to the enthusiast user by the end of the decade (that's only four short years people!). What would you do with a drive that had a 3GB/sec transfer rate? Dream of single-second game loading times in our Forums.
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