Disclaimer: I recently attended VMworld 2017 – US. My flights were paid for by ActualTech Media, VMware provided me with a free pass to the conference and various bits of swag, and Tech Field Day picked up my hotel costs. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event. Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.
It’s A Protocol, Not Media
NVMe has been around for a few years now, and some people get it confused for a new kind of media that they plug into their servers. But it’s not really, it’s just a standard specification for accessing Flash media via the PCI Express bus. There’re a bunch of reasons why you might choose to use NVMe instead of SAS, including lower latency and less CPU overhead. My favourite thing about it though is the plethora of form factors available to use. Kingston touched on these in their presentation at Tech Field Day Extra recently. You can get them in half-height, half-length (HHHL) add-in cards (AIC), U.2 (2.5″) and M.2 sizes. To give you an idea of the use cases for each of these, Kingston suggested the following applications:
- HHHL (AIC) card
- Server / DC applications
- High-end workstations
- U.2 (2.5″)
- Direct-attached, server backplane, just a bunch of flash (JBOF)
- White box and OEM-branded
- Client applications
- Notebooks, desktops, workstations
- Specialised systems
It’s Pretty Fast
NVMe has proven to be pretty fast, and a number of companies are starting to develop products that leverage the protocol in an extremely efficient manner. Coupled with the rise of NVMe/F solutions and you’ve got some pretty cool stuff coming to market. The price is also becoming a lot more reasonable, with Kingston telling us that their DCP1000 NVMe HHHL comes in at around “$0.85 – $0.90 per GB at the moment”. It’s obviously not as cheap as things that spin at 7200RPM but the speed is mighty fine. Kingston also noted that the 2.5″ form factor would be hanging around for some time yet, as customers appreciated the serviceability of the form factor.
[Kingston DCU1000 – Image courtesy of Kingston]
This Stuff’s Everywhere
Flash media has been slowly but surely taking over the world for a little while now. The cost per GB is reducing (slowly, but surely), and the range of form factors means there’s something for everyone’s needs. Protocol advancements such as NVMe make things even easier, particularly at the high end of town. It’s also been interesting to see these “high end” solutions trickle down to affordable form factors such as PCIe add-in cards. With the relative ubiquity of operating system driver support, NVMe has become super accessible. The interesting thing to watch now is how we effectively leverage these advancements in protocol technologies. Will we use them to make interesting advances in platforms and data access? Or will we keep using the same software architectures we fell in love with 15 years ago (albeit with dramatically improved performance specifications)?
Conclusion and Further Reading
I’ll admit it took me a little while to come up with something to write about after the Kingston presentation. Not because I don’t like them or didn’t find their content interesting. Rather, I felt like I was heading down the path of delivering another corporate backgrounder coupled with speeds and feeds and I know they have better qualified people to deliver that messaging to you (if that’s what you’re into). Kingston do a whole range of memory-related products across a variety of focus areas. That’s all well and good but you probably already knew that. Instead, I thought I could focus a little on the magic behind the magic. The Flash era of storage has been absolutely fascinating to witness, and I think it’s only going to get more interesting over the next few years. If you’re into this kind of thing but need a more comprehensive primer on NVMe, I recommend you check out J Metz’s article on the Cisco blog. It’s a cracking yarn and enlightening to boot. Data Centre Journal also provide a thorough overview here.