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June 2nd, 2021

Breaking Digital Logjams with NVMe

By Ian Sagan, Marvell Field Applications Engineer

and Jacqueline Nguyen, Marvell Field Marketing Manager

and Nick De Maria, Marvell Field Applications Engineer

Have you ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Frustrated by long checkout lines at the grocery store? Trapped at the back of a crowded plane while late for a connecting flight?

Such bottlenecks waste time, energy and money. And while today’s digital logjams might seem invisible or abstract by comparison, they are just as costly, multiplied by zettabytes of data struggling through billions of devices – a staggering volume of data that is only continuing to grow.

Fortunately, emerging Non-Volatile Memory Express technology (NVMe) can clear many of these digital logjams almost instantaneously, empowering system administrators to deliver quantum leaps in efficiency, resulting in lower latency and better performance. To the end user this means avoiding the dreaded spinning icon and getting an immediate response.

What is NVMe®?

NVMe is a purpose-built protocol for NVMe SSDs (solid state drives based on NAND Flash storage media). This set of industry-standard technical specifications, developed by a non-profit consortium called NVM Express, defines how host software communicates with flash storage across a PCI Express® bus. As noted in the recent Marvell Whitepaper on NVMe-over-Fabrics (NVMe-oF), these specs comprise:

  • NVMe, which is a command set that is efficient and manageable, with a faster queuing mechanism and scalable for multi-core CPUs.
  • NVMe Management Interface (NVMe-MI), which is a command set and architecture that can use a Baseboard Management Controller to discover, monitor, and update NVMe devices.
  • NVMe-oF, which will be the technology that extends NVMe beyond the server’s PCIe lanes, out into the network/fabric for greater scalability. Examples include Fibre Channel and Ethernet (RDMA and TCP) transports.

Why use NVMe?

The use of NVMe can radically lower latency and improve the speed of data retrieval and storage, both of which are critical in this era of burgeoning data. Specifically, NVMe:

  • Is more streamlined, with fewer command sets and fewer clock cycles per IO, making it faster and more efficient than legacy storage protocols such as SCSI, SAS and SATA
  • Is designed to deliver higher bandwidth and lower latency storage access
  • Offers more command queues and deeper command queues than the legacy protocols

Can I afford NVMe?

As an emerging standard, is NVMe too expensive for many system administrators? No. While it’s true that breakthrough technology often costs more at the outset, costs fall as demand rises, and as administrators gain deeper insights into the total cost of ownership in both client and enterprise applications.

Total cost of ownership is critical, because even as IT budgets continue to shrink, the needs of today’s workforce continue to grow. So administrators need to consider:

  • When is it better to patch a datacenter than undertake a full refresh?
  • What are the tradeoffs between familiarity, accessibility, and breakthrough performance?
  • What is the transaction cost of changing to new protocols?

The bottom line is that all Flash Storage arrays are becoming more mainstream; more cost-effective midrange storage is becoming widely available; and NVMe adoption for server and storage manufacturers is becoming the new standard. Today, NVMe is commonly used as a caching tier for accelerating applications’ access to data.

And as more and more administrators embrace NVMe-oF technology, including Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe) and Ethernet (NVMe/RoCE or NVMe/TCP), the advantages for users multiply. Ultimately, we all want our employees and customers to be happy, and NVMe helps achieve that.

What components do I need to implement NVMe?

For administrators considering a shift to NVMe, two major categories of solutions exist:

  1. Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) – These include solutions like VMware vSAN, Microsoft AzureStack HCI, Nutanix and others. The major components needed for success are:
    • A modern server with enough PCIe interfaces to host local NVMe drives for caching and/or capacity
    • Marvell® FastLinQ® 10/25GbE NICs with Universal RDMA (RoCEv2 and iWARP) for high speed, high intercluster network connectivity
  2. External Block Based Storage (All Flash Array) – This solution delivers disaggregated storage where multiple applications access pools of NVMe for application acceleration
    • A modern server, typically virtualized and hosting multiple applications that need access to high speed storage
    • Marvell QLogic® FC HBAs with concurrent FC-SCSI and FC-NVMe capabilities – all Enhanced 16GFC and 32GFC HBAs (or)
    • Marvell FastLinQ 10/25GbE NICs with NVMe/RDMA or NVMe/TCP capabilities
    • Supported Storage Array with All-Flash NVMe, several available in the market
    • Latest operating systems with support for NVMe over Fabrics like Linux and VMware ESXi 7.0 onwards.

Why administrators should embrace NVMe today

HDDs expanded to SSDs; and NVMe drives further optimization of latency, performance, CPU utilization and overall improvement in application responsiveness. This will help drive another storage shift over the next five years. So with data demands growing exponentially and user expectations rising too, there is no better time to future-proof your storage than now. After all, who likes waiting in line?

For early adopters, NVMe and NVMe-oF delivers immediate benefits – dramatic savings in time, energy and total cost of ownership – paying dividends for years to come.

Additional NVMe information:

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