Move over to NVMe to unlock the true potential of your flash storage

|May 12, 2017 0

George Chacko

As businesses continue to transform digitally, leading to huge increases in delay sensitive applications, high-definition video, mobile computing and applications that need breakthrough performance, the network has become the bottleneck in today’s storage infrastructure.

With the addition of new solid-state storage devices (SSD), which are many orders of magnitude faster and powerful than traditional hard drives, the bottleneck has moved and we need to consider the transport it runs across.

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With insufficient network bandwidth to keep up with the wide scale technology advancements in server-side compute and solid-state storage, the infrastructure bottleneck has now shifted to legacy networks. No longer can older generation Fibre Channel or Ethernet transports keep up with the new demands for performance within the data centre.

The good news is that large and small businesses are increasingly moving to flash-based technologies to create faster, more responsive IT environments. Flash changes the way companies do business by dramatically speeding application performance and improving efficiency.

More than raw performance

Today’s flash technology, coupled with the trend to virtualize servers, is changing the way storage is designed into systems. The unprecedented speed and rapidly increasing cost-effectiveness of flash-based products are dramatically accelerating data center transformation. As these devices become more mainstream, they’ll become an integral component in traditional storage area networks.

This need is consequently driving rapid adoption of flash in the data centre. New 3D NAND flash technology promises ultra-low latency and high density memories—offering up to 10,000 times the performance benefit over traditional hard drives.

Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is brand new protocol designed specifically for the needs of higher core, faster processors that run the latest generation of high-speed applications, while unlocking the latent value of faster storage media such as NAND flash SSDs. NVMe was built explicitly for flash which provides both flexibility and compatibility, while removing complexity, overhead, and latency. It replaces the aging SCSI driver used with hard disk drives for decades, providing about a tenfold decrease in latency and is ideally suited to a SSD environment.

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. It promises to increase scaling to as many as 1,000 shared storage devices.

Despite all the performance and capacity gains at the device level, for optimal results and to take full advantage of this investment, you still need a network that is as fast as the infrastructure. This is critical to avoid flash becoming the restricting element in today’s data centre. Building a modern storage network for flash will unlock the full capabilities of the all-flash data centre and prepare IT leaders for a future of insanely fast and reliable applications.

NVMe over Fibre Channel is the future

Most businesses today need to perform ultra-fast data transfers across large-scale networks for business-critical applications. NVMe over Fabrics is a new industry standard announced last year that dramatically reduces latency and eliminates the need for SCSI translation, by directly transferring NVMe commands and structures across an existing network. Benefits of NVMe-based storage drives include lower latency, additional parallel requests, and higher performance. This makes applications run faster or scale better. NVMe over Fabrics is poised to extend the low-latency efficient NVMe block storage protocol over fabrics to provide large-scale sharing of storage over distance. NVMe over Fabrics maintains the architecture and software consistency of the NVMe protocol across different fabric types, providing the benefits of NVMe regardless of the fabric type or the type of non-volatile memory used in the storage target.

Owing to its nature, NVMe can run across a variety of fabrics, including Fibre Channel and Ethernet. 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.

NVMe over fabric extends the simplicity, efficiency and end-to-end NVMe model where NVMe commands and structures are transferred end-to-end, requiring no translations. Fibre Channel’s inherent multi-queue capability, parallelism, deep queues, and battle-hardened reliability make it an ideal transport for NVMe across the fabric That means you can enjoy higher application performance, more data storage, better analytics and more personalisation of information.

Organisation should be aware about these latest technologies especially if you’re planning an infrastructure upgrade with flash storage anytime soon. These critical infrastructure decisions will have an impact on the foundation for your future business success. Making the wrong infrastructure decision now will become extremely expensive and disruptive to repair at a later date.

The author is Principal Systems Engineer & Lead Technical Consultant, Brocade India.

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