Ankur Mandal

Azure Disk Performance: An Ultimate Guide  


Ankur Mandal

5 min read

Microsoft Azure is a leading cloud platform that offers a comprehensive suite of services tailored to the diverse needs of its customers. A key element of Azure's offerings is its disk storage solutions, which play a crucial role in determining the performance of your applications and workloads.

Optimizing Azure disk storage can significantly enhance the efficiency of your cloud infrastructure and provide a better return on investment.

In this guide, we will explore the intricacies of optimizing Azure disk performance.

You will learn about best practices, factors affecting costs, and strategies to maximize your cloud storage investment. By understanding and implementing these techniques, you can ensure that your applications run smoothly and efficiently, allowing you to fully leverage the benefits of cloud computing.

Let's delve into the details of optimizing Azure Disk Storage.

Introduction to Azure Disk Storage 

Azure Disk Storage is a fully managed block storage service designed to deliver high performance, scalability, and durability for Azure virtual machines (VMs).

Azure Disk Storage offers a variety of disk types to meet different workload requirements:

  • Ultra Disks: Ultra Disks are among the highest-performing disk types available. They offer up to 64TB of capacity and sub-millisecond latency, making them ideal for high-performance applications such as SAP HANA, SQL Server, and Oracle databases.
  • Premium SSDs: Premium SSDs combine excellent durability with high performance. They are well-suited for workloads that require consistently high performance, such as media streaming, web servers, and databases.
  • Standard SSDs: Standard SSDs provide a strong balance between cost and performance. They are ideal for general-purpose tasks like file servers, development environments, and test labs.
  • Standard HDDs: In terms of storage cost per gigabyte, standard HDDs are the most cost-effective option. They are suitable for tasks that do not require high performance, such as backup storage and data archiving.

By understanding the capabilities and appropriate use cases for each disk type, you can make informed decisions to optimize your storage strategy in Azure.

In addition to various disk types, Azure Disk Storage offers a range of features to help you effectively manage your disks:

  • Disk Bursting: Disk bursting allows your virtual machines (VMs) to temporarily access more storage capacity than provisioned. This feature is beneficial for workloads that experience occasional spikes in demand.
  • Snapshots: Snapshots are point-in-time copies of your disks. They enable you to test new configurations, restore data, and create backups, providing flexibility and security for your data.
  • Disk Encryption: Azure Disk Storage supports encryption for data both in transit and at rest. This protects your data from unauthorized access and enhances security and compliance with data protection standards.

These features enhance the functionality of Azure Disk Storage, helping you manage your storage infrastructure more efficiently and securely.

Benefits of Azure Disk Storage

Azure Disk Storage offers several advantages that set it apart from other storage options:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Azure Disk Storage provides a budget-friendly storage solution, allowing you to pay only for the storage you use. Additionally, you can easily scale your storage capacity up or down based on your needs.
  • Durability and Availability: Your data is protected against hardware failures through built-in redundancy. For added resilience, you can replicate data across multiple data centers. This ensures data remains available during unplanned interruptions.
  • Simplified Management: Azure manages upgrades, resolves major issues, and handles hardware maintenance on your behalf, simplifying storage management.
  • Accessibility: Data stored in Azure Storage can be accessed via HTTP or HTTPS from anywhere worldwide. Microsoft provides client libraries for Azure Storage in various languages, including .NET, Java, Node.js, Python, and more, supporting easy integration.
  • Scalability: Designed for scalability, Azure Disk Storage allows you to increase or decrease storage capacity as your needs change.

These benefits make Azure Disk Storage a compelling choice for various storage needs.

What are the Considerations for Azure Disk Performance?

Several variables affect Azure disk performance, including supported throughput, disk types, virtual machine (VM) types, and other factors. Before starting optimization planning, understanding these elements and their potential impact on performance and bottlenecks is essential. When examining Azure disk performance, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Azure Disk IOPS and Application Performance: Application performance may be affected if the configured VMs or disks cannot handle the required input/output operations per second (IOPS). This can lead to slower response times and processing delays, adversely affecting user experience. Enterprise databases often require higher IOPS, and performance issues can arise if disks cannot handle the demand for read/write operations.
  • Type of Virtual Machine: Each VM type in Azure has predefined throughput and IOPS performance limits. Additionally, the attached disk types have their own throughput and IOPS restrictions.
    For example, even if a VM has a high overall IOPS capacity, the total IOPS will be capped at 500 if your disk type can only handle 500 IOPS.
  • Disk Caching and Latency: High disk latency can impact overall system performance as CPU cycles may be tied up while waiting for disk responses. Caching helps by storing frequently accessed data in faster storage, reducing disk delay issues.
    However, if the cache is not properly configured or the VM lacks sufficient cache for the application, it may result in a bottleneck.

Considering these factors, you can better understand potential performance issues and make informed decisions to optimize your Azure disk storage for improved application performance.

Best Practices to Optimize Azure Disk Performance

When moving or deploying workloads to the Azure cloud, performance optimization is a primary concern for enterprises.

Various factors influence Azure disk performance, including optimization tools, disk types, and performance tiering. Each aspect plays a vital role in determining the speed and efficiency of your storage operations.

Let's delve into best practices to optimize Azure disk performance.

1. Leverage Block Storage Optimization Tools

Cloud storage can significantly impact the overall cloud bill, as it is a critical component of any cloud infrastructure. Virtana, in collaboration with an independent research firm, surveyed 350 IT leaders to assess their hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures, costs, practices, challenges, and more. 

The survey revealed that, concerning hybrid cloud storage, 94% of IT executives report that their expenses are on the rise, and 54% state that their storage costs are growing more rapidly than their overall cloud expenses. This highlights the importance of implementing effective storage management and cost optimization strategies in cloud environments.

To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of storage on cloud expenses and operations, an independent study was conducted with over 100 Azure cloud service users. The study revealed several key findings:

  • Block Storage Expenses: A substantial portion of the cloud bill comes from block storage, indicating the significance of managing and optimizing storage efficiently to control costs.
  • Downtime Challenges: Despite overprovisioning resources, organizations still experienced at least one downtime incident per quarter, underscoring the need for more precise resource allocation and management. 

The above mentioned reasons necessitate the importance of implementing Azure cost optimization best practices. Failing to address these issues can lead to unnecessary spend due to idle or underutilized cloud resources, which can have significant financial consequences. Here are how unused resources can affect cloud costs:

  • Excessive Spending: Idle resources incur expenses even when they are not in use, leading to wasted spending. Additionally, overprovisioning can result in excessive spending as organizations use more resources than required.   
  • Inefficient resource distribution: Inactive resources occupy valuable cloud resources that could be used for other purposes. This inefficient allocation can impact the performance and scalability of cloud environments. 
  • Ineffective operations: Overprovisioning resources manually which takes significant DevOps efforts and tools across deployment, monitoring and alerting is ineffective operations. Further, it does not ensure that there would not be any downtime. 

Manual methods for cloud cost management can hinder disk efficiency and require high deployment costs. This is where Lucidity’s storage audit comes into play to help streamline the process.

Lucidity's storage audit offers a pre-configured, user-friendly tool that automates  disk health and usage analysis, providing detailed analytics with just one click:

  • Space Optimization: The tool helps you efficiently identify and eliminate unutilized or overprovisioned disk space, enabling optimal resource utilization and performance. 
  • Cost Monitoring: Compare your current disk expenses with an estimated optimized billing to potentially achieve savings of around 70%. 
  • Risk Reduction: By optimizing storage and monitoring costs, you can avoid downtime, mitigate financial risks and maintain your company’s reputation. 

Under Lucidity’s storage audit tool, you can leverage advanced features for evaluating disk storage performance, providing the following benefits:

  • Idle and over-provisioned resources analysis: Lucidity enables you to make informed decisions about effective disk utilization by helping you analyze and understand idle and over-provisioned resources. 
  • Comprehensive insights: Gain a deep understanding of disk health and utilization. These insights help you further optimize your spending and prevent downtime. 

Once you have obtained these detailed insights, you can take the following actions:

  • Remove unutilized resources: Identify and eliminate unused resources to reduce unnecessary costs.
  • Rightsize excessively allocated resources: Adjust resource allocation to match your actual needs, avoiding over-provisioning.
  • Turn off unnecessary or idle resources: Shut down idle resources to further streamline resource utilization and cut costs.

Lucidity's storage audit tool empowers you to take control of your disk storage performance, maximizing resource efficiency and cost savings.

2. Choose the Right Disk Type

Azure offers five disk types: Premium SSD, Standard HDD, Standard SSD, Premium SSD v2, and Ultra Disk. Except for Standard HDD, all other disk types utilize SSDs in the backend. Ultra Disks provide the highest performance, with up to 160k IOPS and a maximum throughput of 4,000 MB/s.

As Azure typically starts with a premium disk that mean you might be paying for performance you don't need. When selecting the appropriate disk type for your application, start with the option that best suits your current needs. Later, you can adjust the performance tier without experiencing any downtime, allowing you to upgrade to a higher tier as your application scales and user base grows.

This flexibility helps maintain a balance between Azure cost management and performance. By choosing the right disk type and adjusting performance tiers as needed, you can optimize your storage operations for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

3. Enable Disk Caching

Azure Disk caching brings storage closer to the virtual machine (VM), enabling faster read and write operations. Each VM type has a specified amount of storage allocated for caching. You can choose from the following caching configuration modes:

  • Read-Only: The cache is used exclusively for read operations in this mode. It is ideal for workloads with heavy read operations.
  • Read/Write: This mode is recommended for workloads that balance read and write operations.

The caching modes available to you depend on the types of disks and VMs you are using. For optimal performance, you can use the read/write mode for operating system disks and the read-only cache mode for data disks used in SQL Server and other applications.

Determining the most suitable caching strategy for your applications during the initial deployment phase is best. Changing a disk's cache configuration later can lead to disruptions. By selecting the appropriate caching mode, you can optimize your storage performance and improve the efficiency of your applications.

4. Adjust Performance Tiers

With Azure, you can adjust the disk performance tiers without affecting the disk's size. This flexibility is ideal for brief increase in performance requirements, such as during performance testing or seasonal usage surges. You can temporarily change the performance tiers of your current disks to a higher level, allowing for a increased throughput and IOPS during these events—all without any downtime. After the peak period ends, you can return to the initial tier. Premium SSD-managed disks currently support this capability, offering a versatile approach to disk optimization.

5. Auto Scale Resources

Moreover, effective Azure disk optimization isn't complete without auto-scaling  resources. Instead relying on traditional or manual approaches that can lead to over- or under-provisioning, Lucidity automates the scaling process for you. This automation prevents inefficient resource allocation and balances resource usage, which can lead to significant cost savings.

Lucidity’s innovative block storage auto-scaler efficiently addresses the challenges of resource allocation by autonomously managing block storage. This cutting-edge technology is the first in the industry to offer autonomous storage orchestration,  smoothing out block storage management and ensuring disk performance is reliable, cost-effective, and user-friendly. 

How does it work?

Lucidity's block storage auto-scaler can be implemented with just three clicks, making it a user-friendly solution that seamlessly integrates with your block storage and cloud service providers. This auto scaler automates the process of resizing storage to ensure the availability of storage space according to changing requirements.

By automatically adjusting the storage infrastructure, you can eliminate the need for manual intervention and avoid the hassle of manually resizing resources.

Lucidity's block storage auto-scaler offers a range of features to optimize resource utilization and enhance overall storage performance:

  • Live Shrinkage and Expansion: It automatically adjust disk scaling in few seconds, allowing for efficient management of large data volumes and ensuring that storage remains responsive to real-time needs. 
  • Storage Cost Savings: With active monitoring and adjustment of block storage, Lucidity helps reduce overprovisioning and reduces space wastage, resulting in significant cost savings of approximately 70% on storage costs. Additionally, Lucidity offers an ROI Calculator to help you forecast potential savings after installing the auto-scaler. 
Lucidity ROI calculator for finding return after using the tool
  • Zero Downtime: Lucidity's auto-scaler ensures seamless data or resource management with zero downtime by automatically expanding or shrinking resources as needed. This noOps approach eliminates delays and obstaces in the storage management process. 
  • Customized Policy: To prevent downtime, Lucidity provides a ‘create policy’ feature that allows you to set various scaling parameters, such as maximum disk usage and buffer size. Lucidity then uses this data to automate scaling according to your specific needs. 
Lucidity custom policy feature to ensure continuous performance

For those looking to optimize  Azure disk performance, consider reaching out to Lucidity for a Demo to see how their innovative solutions can enhance your storage management and improve performance. 

6. Implement Disk Striping

Creating RAID 0 striped volumes in Azure allows you to increase the capacity and performance of your disks. For example, a striped volume built from two disks with a throughput of 200 MB/sec and a capacity of 5k IOPS can achieve a combined throughput of 400 MB/sec and 10k IOPS. This approach can enhance disk performance without the need for more expensive disks.

However, it's important to consider the IOPS and overall throughput limitations of the VM SKU you are using. In the example mentioned, if the virtual machine is limited to a maximum of 7k IOPS, your application can only utilize that maximum capacity, regardless of the combined IOPS of the disks.

Before implementing a disk striping strategy, thoroughly review the VM SKU limitations and disk types available. In some cases, you may need to upgrade the VM SKU to fully benefit from the performance improvements offered by disk striping.

By carefully planning and selecting the appropriate VM and disk configurations, you can maximize your storage performance and achieve greater efficiency in your Azure deployments.

7. Focus on Disk Bursting

Azure's disk bursting capability allows Premium SSDs and Standard SSDs to temporarily boost IOPS and throughput, improving VM and disk performance. For workloads with frequent traffic spikes, a disk provisioned for 120 IOPS can burst up to 3500 IOPS, accelerating application start times and handling sudden increases in demand.

There are two models for disk bursting: credit-based and on-demand.

  • On-Demand: Disk bursting occurs automatically when the disk reaches its provisioned capacity.
  • Credit-Based: In this model, bursting is only possible when a certain amount of burst credit has been accumulated.

Keep in mind that Premium SSDs support both on-demand and credit-based bursting, while Standard SSDs only support credit-based bursting.

By leveraging the disk bursting capability, you can optimize your storage for workloads with variable demand, ensuring smooth performance even during traffic spikes.

8. Use Disk Write Accelerator

Azure's M series virtual machines are designed for workloads that demand high memory and computation, such as SAP HANA, VDI, and HPC. The Write Accelerator feature can further enhance disk performance for M series machines by reducing the I/O latency of write operations.

Enabling Write Accelerator is especially beneficial for log disks used for redo or transaction logs in modern databases. It ensures optimal performance and improves the speed and efficiency of write operations.

By taking advantage of Disk Write Accelerator, you can achieve faster write speeds and improved overall performance for demanding workloads running on M series virtual machines.

9. Utilize Appropriate Redundancy Solution

Choosing the right redundancy solution in Azure is essential for meeting your data availability and durability requirements. When making this decision, consider factors such as recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO).

Evaluate your redundancy needs regularly to optimize cost and data protection. Adjust your redundancy options as necessary to balance your budget with the desired level of resilience.

By selecting and adapting the appropriate redundancy solution, you can ensure your data remains protected and accessible in accordance with your business requirements.

10. Leverage Backups and Snapshots

Azure Disk Snapshots enable you to create point-in-time backups of your disks. Regularly scheduling backups helps protect your data from disasters, corruption, and accidental deletion. Implementing a robust backup plan supports data recovery and durability during unexpected events.

By leveraging backups and snapshots, you can enhance your data's resilience and ensure that you have a reliable method for restoring it when needed. Make backups an integral part of your data protection strategy.

11. Take Assistance from Azure Advisor

Azure Advisor is a free service that provides recommendations on how to optimize cost, security, and performance in your Azure environment. Using machine learning, it analyzes usage trends and offers tailored suggestions based on industry best practices.

Azure Advisor can help you identify idle virtual machines and recommend scaling back to reduce expenses. Additionally, it offers guidance on best practices for network performance, storage optimization, and security.

By leveraging Azure Advisor, you can improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your Azure resources while ensuring your environment follows best practices for performance and security.

Maintain an Optimized Azure Disk Performance!

Azure Disk Performance is a crucial aspect of cloud computing that directly impacts the efficiency and speed of data management in various applications. Choosing the right Azure disk type and optimizing performance settings are essential for maximizing speed and efficiency. By understanding the various Azure disk options and monitoring tools available, organizations can tailor their infrastructure to meet their specific performance needs.

Through thoughtful planning and continuous monitoring, businesses can ensure that their Azure environments provide reliable, high-speed performance that supports their workloads and services. As Azure continues to innovate and introduce new features, staying up to date with the latest best practices and optimizations will help maintain optimal disk performance in the cloud.

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