Tuesday, 14 February 2017 07:56

NVMe is the next enterprise storage evolution


Flash storage helps meet user expectations that their application will respond immediately and, in fact, moving to flash storage in the data centre offers several advantages, says Phillip Coates, a systems engineer manager for Brocade in Australia and New Zealand.

Coates told iTWire that the advantages were less power consumption with some vendors claiming 600x better power efficiency than HDDs; less heat production than traditional spinning drives; far less space required; lower latency with some vendors claiming a 40x reduction compared with HDDs; fast return on investment and better performing applications.

But, he added, it was the combination of factors that brought out the best in flash – it was a team effort.

Coates has been around networks, data and communications since the mid-1980s doing everything from chip-level repair to diagnosing faulty network equipment.

He has architected and installed solutions covering WAN connectivity, data centre and campus solutions, carrier-based connectivity, various forms of network security, as well as fault diagnosis and analysis.

He joined Brocade in 2005 and has extensive experience in storage area networking using traditional fibre channel, as well as next-generation solutions utilising converged Ethernet with iSCSI, FCoE or network-attached storage.

The remainder of the article is in Coates' own words.

Brocade Philip CoatesDon’t forget about your network

Although you may have invested in flash storage for all the anticipated benefits, you may not be getting everything that you expected from your investment. Increased traffic between storage and servers, for example, can quickly oversubscribe your existing network links.

In some cases, the transition to flash pushes the data access bottleneck away from the storage devices and toward the network. This situation can lead to longer ROI cycles for your flash storage investments or can slow your flash implementation altogether. Understanding your performance bottlenecks and potential challenges becomes critical.

Better performance/throughput and lower latency are two major benefits you can expect from flash. But without a balanced infrastructure of compute, storage and networking elements, you may be minimising the flash technology’s potential. With the aggressive deployment of flash across the industry to increase performance, this problem will only get worse.

What options do you have?

You may have considered buying the latest flash drive, an improved all-flash array or a network hardware solution, but at this point, you could be just guessing which solution will best overcome your challenge. The other alternative is to start with Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), a storage protocol built explicitly for flash and designed to improve data and latency sensitive applications.

Although NVMe typically serves in direct server attached storage today, there’s a growing need to extend this low latency protocol over “storage fabrics”, where shared storage solutions can benefit. In addition, it promises to increase scaling to as many as 1,000 shared storage devices.

To add strength to the protocol, a new industry standard — NVMe over Fabrics — was announced in June last year. It allows NVMe commands to travel natively across an existing network, enabling you to now extend the protocol over large storage fabrics.

Owing to its nature, NVMe can run across a variety of fabrics, including Fibre Channel and Ethernet. It allows you to use your existing network architecture by standardising on a common abstraction layer that can operate over multiple network fabric types. 40Gbe with iSCSI, file-based network file system (NFS) or server message block (SMB) and 16G Fibre Channel will all be a network bottleneck when compared with NVMe over fabrics. It’s similar to the lack of performance you would get from driving a high-performance road car on a dirt road.

What does this mean for Enterprise?

Enterprises need to perform ultra-fast data transfers across large-scale networks for business-critical applications. NVMe over Fabrics dramatically reduces latency and eliminates the need for SCSI translation, by directly transferring NVMe commands and structures from end to end, thereby making applications run faster or scale better.

A primary goal of NVMe is to reduce protocol overheads seen in traditional (Fibre Channel and Ethernet) encapsulation techniques and thus reduce latency and increase IOPs between the host and the target storage device. NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe) works with flash storage to ensure you get the performance and low latency that you originally wanted, but it also provides the additional reliability and performance of a Fibre Channel network.

In this way, running NVMe natively across a Fibre Channel network extends the benefits of flash storage, maintains flash simplicity and efficiency, while eliminating the need for translation. That means you can enjoy higher application performance, more data storage, better analytics and more personalisation of information.

For many, NVMe over Fabrics represents a high-performance solution with low latency. A primary advantage is the ability to add sustainable scale without affecting performance.

By delivering low latency for all-flash arrays, NVMe over Fabrics is emerging as a promising solution for large-scale enterprises and SAN infrastructure. Even if you’re not ready to make the move today, you still might want to prepare with Gen6 Fibre Channel solutions as you move toward NVMe over time.

Preparing for the future

The combination of NVMe and Fibre Channel allows you to extend the benefits of flash in latency and performance at the highest Fibre Channel speeds. By investing in hardware that supports NVMe today, you can ensure your network and storage are optimised for whatever’s coming next. This will enable you to support enterprise data centres, mobile computing, high-performance computing, relational databases and other uses of the technology.

As applications continue to advance and virtualisation permeates the data centre, flash storage will grow right along with them. Understanding how much bandwidth response your applications require — and what application response time growth you foresee — is critical for your planning.

Rethinking your current data centre environment to accommodate flash and the applications that require it, will most likely bring you to a discussion about NVMe and NVMe over Fabrics. Understanding how communication occurs among storage, compute and network resources will greatly affect your success.

With the right platform in place, you can implement the best solution for your business, using NVMe as the next evolutionary step for your storage network.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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