NVMe over Fabrics: the storage revolution

5x more performance than current day lightning fast SSD
First there was fast, then came faster. Mellanox states: “The performance of storage technologies has increased 100 times in the last five years as Flash-based Solid State Disks (SSDs), and especially SSDs connected over NVMe, have come to market.” Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) provides 25x faster performance over traditional spinning drives (HDD). Such performance offers hugely improved revenue opportunities for high transactional sectors such as FinTech, eGaming and Retail.

SSDs get faster
NVMe is shaking things up in the storage arena. As the new target storage for ultra-low latency workloads, it’s a priority issue for storage vendors.  They’re looking at ways to introduce NVMe to their portfolios to enable the delivery of high bandwidth and low latency storage. It offers speed, scalability and efficiency. The NVM website defines it as:

… “A scalable host controller interface designed to address the needs of Enterprise, Data Center and Client systems that utilize PCI Express® (PCIe®) based solid state drives. The interface provides an optimized command issue and completion path. It includes support for parallel operation by supporting up to 64K commands within a single I/O queue to the device. Additionally, support has been added for many Enterprise capabilities like end-to-end data protection (compatible with T10 DIF and DIX standards), enhanced error reporting, and virtualization.”

In terms of speed, NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) provides distance connectivity to NVMe devices with no more than 10 microseconds (μs) of additional latency over a native NVMe device inside a server. Some vendors are ahead of the curve and their offerings do not require engineering. Others need to re-engineer to retrofit NVMe or produce completely new products within their portfolio. Fortunately for those who are still working on their solutions, the market generally gives time to catch up. No organisation wants to gain an early adopter reputation if it implies teething problems with nascent technology. Caution saves cash.

The big question around NVMe-oF is what fabric to choose. This highlights other issues such as the feasibility of using current SAN fabric, whether FC or Ethernet. There are options available including Local Bus (internal to the server) and various NVMe-oF options including Fibre Channel or RDMA.

Network saturation
While current All Flash Arrays are already moving storage performance bottlenecks from arrays into the storage networks, NVMe puts extra workload on the storage network. This extra workload will push Fibre Channel and RDMA over Ethernet to their saturation point very quickly. As an example; just four NVMe devices can saturate a 100GB network.

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With this type of demand on the network, dedicated NVMe fabrics could be a recommendation going forward since if offers the chance to remove all other traffic to support the storage SLA on the network.

The state of play
With the NVMe market headed towards more than US$57 billion by 2020, NVMe vendors such as Brocade and Mellanox are positioning themselves as leaders in the market place to leverage this growth opportunity in the drive for businesses to get top performance. The affected storage vendors like Pure Storage, HPE, Fujitsu, Western Digital (HGST and Tegile), IBM, Infinidat, NetApp, Oracle, Dell/EMC and Huawei will continue to adapt as needed.

Others, such as Fujitsu and Western Digital have distinct advantages through running their own research, development and manufacturing programmes, and are most likely to introduce product re-engineered or new to market quicker than the competition.

At Viadex we partner with some of the most innovative All Flash Array vendors who are deploying NVMe technology into their products. We provide informed recommendations around both fabric types, and alternatives to NVMe-oF until such time that the cost becomes less prohibitive. What’s your view? Is this the next essential storage strategy? Get in touch to chat about such issues at any time. I look forward to hearing from you.

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