Adaptec by PMC ASR-8885 12Gb/s RAID Controller Review

Adaptec by PMC ASR-8885 12Gb/s RAID Controller Review

We test a prototype of the new Adaptec 12Gb/s ASR-8885 RAID controller with two high-powered arrays in RAID 0 and RAID 5. Amazing performance inside.

@paulyalcorn
Published Mon, Nov 18 2013 8:00 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Adaptec by PMC

Introduction

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Adaptec by PMC's introduction of the 12Gb/s ASR-8885 heralds the beginning of the 12Gb/s SAS RAID controller era, which provides numerous advantages over the previous 6Gb/s architecture. Adaptec by PMC is making significant inroads into the SAS space. With their RAID controllers, HBA's, expanders and a forthcoming SAS SSD controller, they provide an end-to-end SAS solution for their customers.

Adaptec by PMC made a big splash with the entrance of their Series 7 controller. The controllers redefined the vision of storage density by providing up to 24 native ports of SAS 6Gb/s connectivity in one package, without the use of expanders. At the heart of the Series 7 controllers is the world's highest native port count in a single-chip, the PM8015 RoC. The new Series 8 controllers borrow heavily from the technological leap from the previous architecture.

The new PM8063 steps the port count back to 16 native ports of 12Gb/s connectivity. The RoCstar contention-free architecture is efficient and scalable. Adaptec eliminates system performance limitations of traditional RoC devices by interconnecting the internal subsystems. It sports an 8GByte/s PCIe 3.0 interface with IOV support and inline XOR to reduce DRAM access times and improve performance. This provides speeds in excess of 700,000 random IOPS for 12Gb/s, and 600,000 IOPS for 6Gb/s devices. This is a healthy 60% increase in IOPS over the previous Series 7. The 6.6 GB/s in sequential read and 5.2 GB/s of sequential write speed provides plenty of throughput to utilize the PCIe 3.0 connection.

The Series 8 controllers are designed with slim Low Profile/MD2 form factors to provide a dense storage management package. The high port count alleviates the requirement for expanders and associated hardware in many deployments. Removing this extra hardware eliminates compatibility issues, cost, and complexity from the server and brings the promise of lower TCO.

The fledgling 12Gb/s market isn't entirely ripe with products to utilize the interface, but as time progresses, the ecosystem will expand to many storage products. There can be tremendous value in moving to a 12Gb/s controller even with the few available devices on the market. The Series 8 controllers are fully backwards compatible with 6Gb/s SAS/SATA storage products to provide enhanced performance with existing infrastructure. The 12Gb/s connection boosts speed from 24GBps with 6Gb/s SAS up to 48GBps from a 4-lane cable.

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The Series 8 controllers can employ the new maxCache Plus software, which allows the user to configure all storage devices in the server (even non-Adaptec products), to provide interoperability and create hybrid storage arrays. Users can employ the fastest 12Gb/s SSDs to accelerate performance from spindle-based storage devices with the tiering and caching features of maxCache Plus.

The ASR-8885 prototype we are testing will be deployed into a plethora of use-cases with existing 6Gb/s infrastructure and new 12Gb/s storage products. We have amassed two impressive arrays of SSD's to push the controller to the boundaries of its performance. We will utilize 16 of our 26 x 400GB Micron P400m SSDs to test 6Gb/s performance, and 8 of the SSD800MH HGST SSD's, the faster version of the HGST SSD800MM SSD's we recently evaluated. Bear in mind that the test results of the prototype may not reach the maximum capabilities of the production ASR-8885, but we will be able to get a good taste of 12Gb/s performance.

Adaptec ASR-8885 Management and Specifications

Management

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Adaptec offers several means of controller management. The most obvious is through the controllers' BIOS. The requisite CLI interface also provides management capability, though most will utilize the HTML5 web-browser based maxView utility. This allows for easy configuration in a user-friendly GUI. The web-based GUI is wrapped in standard desktop browser without the need for a separate software installation, allowing for easy management of direct attach or networked storage.

The manager also provides full monitoring of an installed supercap and AFM status. Initializing several devices simultaneously is possible through the BIOS of the controller, and the addition of secure erase functionality is a tremendous time saver.

The Series 8 adapters allow three configuration options for attached volumes with the addition of FlexConfig technology. This aids ease of configurability, with the option for automatic setup for both physical and logical volumes. In physical drive mode, the controller configures the drive in a pass-through configuration, much like an HBA. There is no addition of metadata to the drive and no use of DRAM caching.

In simple volume mode, the controller allows the drive to utilize the DRAM caching by configuring metadata onto the drive. This value-added proposition gives HBA functionality with DRAM caching and the protection of supercaps (if attached). The RAID mode provides the full set of options for manually configuring all RAID parameters and supports three modes of operation; OLTP, Dynamic and Big Block Bypass. The RAID mode also provides online capacity migration.

Adaptec ASR-8885 Specifications

The ASR-8885 offers a means of power backup with the AFM-700 modules. These supercapacitor-based devices provide numerous advantages over Li-Ion batteries. The AFM-700 also powers the ZMCP (Zero-Maintenance Cache Protection) feature as an add-on with most models (with the exception of the 8885E). The 81650ZQ features embedded NAND and capacitors on the PCB.

The Series 8 family consists of five SKU's. The 8885E is geared for the price-conscious and has RAID options limited to 1, 1,1E and 10. The 8885E also does not support cache protection and features only 512MB of DDR3 cache.

The remainder of the controllers leverage the full capabilities of ARC (Adaptec RAID Code), with 0, 1, 1E, 5, 6, 10, 50 and RAID 60 supported. These controllers sport 1GB of DRAM cache, support the AFM-700 modules, and feature varying port configurations listed in the specifications graphic below. A comparable 16-port model from the earlier generation controllers pulled 19.55 Watts, and with Series 8 that is reduced to 14.73 Watts. All models are covered by a three-year warranty.

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Adaptec ASR-8885

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The HD MiniSAS connections are near the bracket of the controller, and the connection header for the AFM-7000 is near the right edge of the PCB. Three DRAM chips to the right of the heat sink are joined by two more chips on the bottom of the controller, for a total of 1.25GB of DRAM. The DRAM utilizes ECC, resulting in useable capacity totaling 1GB of DRAM.

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The ASR-8885 features two internal SFF-8643 ports and two external SFF-8644 ports to provide sixteen native 12Gb/s ports. The Series 8 controllers are available with varying internal/external port configurations.

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The PM8063 SRCv 16x12G is a x8 PCIe 3.0 to 16-port 12Gb/s SAS RoC controller that can provide up to 8Gb/s of throughput at the PCIe slot. Due to the overhead of encoding and handshaking operations, the user-addressable speed is roughly 6.6 GB/s.

Test System and Methodology

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We utilize a new approach to RAID storage testing designed specifically to target performance with a high level of granularity. Many testing methods record peak and average measurements. These average values give a basic understanding of performance, but fall short in providing the clearest view possible of I/O QoS (Quality of Service).

'Average' results do little to indicate performance variability experienced during actual deployment. The degree of variability is especially pertinent, as many applications can hang or lag as they wait for I/O requests to complete. This testing methodology illustrates performance variability, and includes average measurements, during the measurement window. Providing measurements from our workloads with one-second reporting intervals illustrates product differentiation in relation to I/O QoS. Scatter charts give readers a basic understanding of I/O latency distribution without observing numerous graphs.

Consistent latency is the goal of every storage solution, and measurements such as Maximum Latency only illuminate the single longest I/O received during testing. This can be misleading, as a single 'outlying I/O' can skew the view of an otherwise superb solution. Standard Deviation measurements consider latency distribution, but do not always effectively illustrate I/O distribution with enough granularity to provide a clear picture of system performance. We also use latency plots to illustrate latency scaling under various workloads.

The first page of results will provide the 'key' to understanding and interpreting our new test methodology. In replicated environments, RAID 0 can be a compelling choice for bleeding edge performance. RAID 5 provides a layer of data security that protects from the loss of a drive. We are testing both RAID 0 and RAID 5 for this evaluation. Bear in mind that the test results of the prototype may not reach the maximum capabilities of the production-run ASR-8885.

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To test performance with 12Gb/s SSDs we selected the fastest SSD available on the market, the HGST SSD800MH SSD's. Eight of these SSDs are powerful enough to saturate even the fastest of controllers. We have written a product evaluation of the slightly slower version of this SSD, the HGST SSD800MM SSD's. Look to these pages soon for an evaluation of the SSD800MH, which features sequential read/write speeds of 1200/750 MB/s and read/write IOPS of 145,000/100,000 IOPS.

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Our array of 26 of the 6Gb/s 400GB Micron P400m's will be a staple in all RAID product evaluations moving forward. The demanding nature of our enterprise test lab requires resilient solid state storage for testing, and we selected the P400m specifically due to its consistent performance and heavy endurance capabilities. Top speeds of 60,000/26,000 read/write IOPS and up to 380/310 MB/s of sequential throughput allow the P400m's to push 6Gb/s devices to the limit. We have already published the Micron P400m 200GB Enterprise SSD Evaluation, and look to these pages soon for a product evaluation with 24 of these SSD's in various RAID configurations.

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Adaptec by PMC manufacturers HD MiniSAS cables, on the left of the picture, which are available through their resellers. The Adaptec cables are high quality, but only available in mainstream configurations.

For other cabling needs, such as the external to SAS breakouts in the middle and the dual-port SAS cables to the right, we have found Serialcables.com to be a reliable source of high quality cables and accessories. Serial Cables has mainstream, specialty, and limited availability items in stock. When working under deadlines, and tight schedules, the fast service and knowledgeable staff at Serial Cables have served us well.

RAID 0 4K Random Read/Write

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Each QD for every parameter tested includes 300 data points (five minutes of one second reports) to illustrate the degree of performance variability. The line for each QD represents the average speed reported during the five-minute interval.

4K random speed measurements are an important metric when comparing drive performance, as the hardest type of file access for any storage solution to master is small-file random. One of the most sought-after performance specifications, 4K random performance is a heavily marketed figure.

The HGST SSD800MH array averages 676,182 IOPS, with peaks in the 680K range. The Micron P400m array reaches 618,671 IOPS. We were advised to expect roughly 600K IOPS for 6Gb/s products, as there is still further fine-tuning of the firmware underway. Both arrays score impressive scores, and the scaling is good with a large jump at QD128. Much of the lower IOPS performance of the P400m array is likely due to the need for the controller to manage more channels simultaneously. In our upcoming Micron P400m RAID review, we will take a close look at scaling with fewer SSDs.

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Our read latency chart reveals that the array latency nearly doubles in the jump from QD128 to QD256. This doubling of latency reaps only a minor performance gain in IOPS for the 12Gb/s SSD's, as shown in the chart above the latency chart. This indicates that limiting the array to QD128 with the HGST 12Gb/s SSD's would provide optimum performance in both IOPS and latency for a read-centric 4K workload in some latency-sensitive environments. The Micron P400m's 100K jump in IOPS from QD128 to 256 is enough to offset the increase in latency.

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Garbage collection routines are more pronounced in heavy write workloads. This leads to more performance variability.

The HGST 8-drive array produces an average of 484,499 IOPS at QD256, or roughly 60,562 per SSD. The Micron array averages 422,231 IOPS at QD256, or 26,389 IOPS per SSD, slightly above the rated specifications. The Microns provide superb scaling with the heavy write workload, while the HGST is likely constrained by RAID controller limitations.

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The write latency charts illustrated the scaling for both arrays is optimum for IOPS/latency at QD128.

RAID 0 8K Random Read/Write

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8K random read and write speed is a metric that is not tested for consumer use, but for enterprise environments this is an important aspect of performance. With several different workloads relying heavily upon 8K performance, we include this as a standard with each evaluation. Many of our Server Emulations below will also test 8K performance with various mixed read/write workloads.

The average 8K random read speed of the HGST array comes in at 524,990 IOPS at QD256, and the Micron drive array peaks at QD256 with 482,335 IOPS.

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The 8K read latency results indicates that the best performance in latency-sensitive applications for the HGST array falls at QD128, and the Micron array again performs best at QD256.

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The average 8K random write speed of the HGST array is 350,637 IOPS at QD256, and 307,299 IOPS for the Micron array.

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With 8K random writes, the Microns average .84ms and the HGST array averages .729ms.

RAID 0 128K Sequential Read/Write

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The 128K read sequential speeds reflects the maximum sequential throughput of the SSD using a file size encountered in an enterprise scenario. The Micron's pull ahead in this test, leveraging their impressive read speed, topping out at 6,080 MB/s, while the HGST array peaks at 5,875 MB/s. We are clearly bumping up against controller limitations with both SSD arrays saturating the controller.

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128k read latency results indicates the HGST SSD's are more nimble at lower Queue Depths, where the controller has fewer devices to manage. Both arrays reach the best IOPS/latency ratio at QD128.

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HGST array reaches the maximum speed of the controller with 5,198 MB/s, and peaks as high as 5,645 MB/s at QD256. The Micron array tops out at 2,771 MB/s, which leaves quite a bit of performance lost in the scaling of the controller. With each P400m conservatively rated at 310 MB/s of sequential write speed we should hit at, or above, 4,960 MB/s.

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RAID 0 Database/OLTP, Webserver and Fileserver

RAID 0 Database/OLTP

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This test emulates Database and On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP) workloads. OLTP is the processing of transactions such as credit cards and high frequency trading in the financial sector. Enterprise SSDs are uniquely well suited for the financial sector with their low latency and high random workload performance. Databases are the bread and butter of many enterprise deployments. These are demanding 8K random workloads with a 66% read and 33% write distribution that bring even the fastest storage solutions down to earth.

The HGST RAID 0 array tops out at 424,551 IOPS, and the Micron P400m's reaches speeds of 253,274 IOPS.

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Webserver

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The Webserver profile is a read-only test with a wide range of file sizes. Web servers are responsible for generating content for users to view over the internet, much like the very page you are reading. The speed of the underlying storage system has a massive impact on the speed and responsiveness of the server that is hosting the website, and thus the end-user experience.

The Microns take the lead in this test. The HGST array averages 219,229 IOPS, while the Micron array tops out at 256,184 IOPS at QD256.

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Fileserver

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The File Server profile represents typical file server workloads. This profile tests a wide variety of different file sizes simultaneously to simulate multiple users with an 80% read and 20% write distribution.

The HGST array averages 241,072 IOPS, while the Microns' average 202,202 IOPS at QD256.

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RAID 5 4K Random Read/Write

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Each QD for every parameter tested includes 300 data points (five minutes of one second reports) to illustrate the degree of performance variability. The line for each QD represents the average speed reported during the five-minute interval.

4K random speed measurements are an important metric when comparing drive performance, as the hardest type of file access for any storage solution to master is small-file random. One of the most sought-after performance specifications, 4K random performance is a heavily marketed figure.

The HGST array peaks at an average of 669,711 IOPS at QD256, while the Micron array reaches 318,811 IOPS.

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Garbage collection routines are more pronounced in heavy write workloads. This leads to more variability in performance.

The HGST SSD800MH peaks at QD64 with 30,561 IOPS. The Microns top out at QD64 with 27,571 IOPS. With write activity, we note that performance actually decreases as we add in higher QD.

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RAID 5 8K Random Read/Write

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8K random read and write speed is a metric that is not tested for consumer use, but for enterprise environments this is an important aspect of performance. With several different workloads relying heavily upon 8K performance, we include this as a standard with each evaluation. Many of our Server Emulations below will also test 8K performance with various mixed read/write workloads.

The average 8K random read speed of the HGST array comes in at 530,377 IOPS at QD256, while the Micron array peaks at 479,303 IOPS.

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The 8K random write results from the RAID 5 arrays closely mirrors the results we received with the 4K random write workloads, with the peak occurring at QD64 for the both arrays.

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RAID 5 128K Sequential Read/Write

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The 128K read sequential speed reflects the maximum sequential throughput of the SSD using a file size encountered in an enterprise scenario. The Micron array reaches a sequential read speed of 6,031 MB/s at QD256, while the HGST array peaks at 5,385 MB/s.

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We observe slower write speeds at lower queue depths and then a missive increase over QD32. The HGST array averages 2,998 MB/s, while the Microns average 2,205 MB/s

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Latency drops significantly as we reach higher queue depths.

RAID 5 Database/OLTP and Webserver

RAID 5 Database/OLTP

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This test emulates Database and On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP) workloads. OLTP is the processing of transactions such as credit cards and high frequency trading in the financial sector. Enterprise SSDs are uniquely well suited for the financial sector with their low latency and high random workload performance. Databases are the bread and butter of many enterprise deployments. These are demanding 8K random workloads with a 66% read and 33% write distribution that can bring even the highest performing solutions down to earth.

The HGST array tops out at 82,952 IOPS at QD64, while the Micron array tops out at 74,517 IOPS at QD128.

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Webserver

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The Webserver profile is a read-only test with a wide range of file sizes. Web servers are responsible for generating content for users to view over the internet, much like the very page you are reading. The speed of the underlying storage system has a massive impact on the speed and responsiveness of the server that is hosting the website, and thus the end-user experience.

The Micron array again excels at this heavy workload. The HGST array tops out at 212,709 IOPS at QD256, while the Micron array reaches 263,447 IOPS.

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Fileserver

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The File Server profile represents typical file server workloads. This profile tests a wide variety of different file sizes simultaneously to simulate multiple users with an 80% read and 20% write distribution.

The HGTS array averages 119,434 IOPS at QD128, while the Micron P400m's average 101,782 IOPS at QD256.

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Final Thoughts

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Over the last ten years, PMC has developed into a storage-centric company, with enterprise storage solutions now comprising 65% of their revenue mix. With the acquisition of Adaptec, PMC has become a more formidable opponent for their competitors. The needs of the datacenter are changing, and as Adaptec by PMC continues to evolve, they have developed new RAID controllers and HBA's that provide density, flexibility, and performance in a small package.

The old inefficient deployment model is changing rapidly. The emergence of the 'new breed of OEM's' (such as Google and Microsoft) has led to demand for smaller, more efficient solutions to address storage performance challenges. The increase in storage density is important; next-generation servers can cram up to eight head nodes into a 2U chassis, along with almost 70 drives in newer 2U enclosures. Providing small LP/MD2 controllers with high port counts addresses both of these needs, and eliminates the use of an expander in some situations. This reduces cost, complexity, and power requirements.

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Adaptec's impending release of their own SAS SSD controller will produce an optional end-to-end SAS solution for their customers. Utilizing a 12Gb/s controller increases the performance of existing infrastructure and enables the utilization of the fastest SSD's available for caching and tiering models. Hardware is only part of the equation, providing easy-to-use software is also important.

The maxView Storage Manager simplifies storage administration, and the three modes of operation present HBA-like functionality. The addition of the MaxCache Plus system provides an easy-to-use management portal for server storage and allows easy configuration of tiering and caching schemes. The innovative supercapacitor power hold-up modules bring lower TCO and simplified management. A 4.82-Watt decrease in power consumption, coupled with a 60% gain in performance, is a win-win.

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The performance of the prototype ASR-8885 was stellar, though we need to caution that this may not be the final revision of firmware and drivers. There is a notable chance for even more performance in the final revisions. We topped out at over 690,000 IOPS and 6GB/s of sequential throughput, which is very impressive in a controller with a friendly price point. The only area we did not come within grasp of the maximum performance was with RAID 5 sequential write speed, which will surely be addressed with firmware modifications.

The Adaptec Series 8 controllers will be available for widespread purchase in December and come with a three-year warranty. With the ASR-8885 being the only 12Gb/s RAID solution we have had in the lab, it is hard to compare against the competition. However, the continuing innovation from Adaptec, and the stellar performance, merits a TweakTown Editor's Choice Award.

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The quest for benchmark world records led Paul further and further down the overclocking rabbit hole. SSDs and RAID controllers were a big part of that equation, allowing him to push performance to the bleeding edge. Finding the fastest and most extreme storage solutions led to experience with a myriad of high-end enterprise devices. Soon testing SSDs and Enterprise RAID controllers at the limits of their performance became Paul's real passion, one that is carried out through writing articles and reviews.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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