StarWind Continues To Do It Their Way

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 17.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. 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.

 

StarWind recently presented at Storage Field Day 17. You can see their videos from Storage Field Day 17 here, and download a PDF copy of my rough notes from here.

 

StarWind Do All Kinds Of Stuff

I’ve written enthusiastically about StarWind previously. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they have three main focus areas:

They maintain a strict focus on the SMB and Enterprise ROBO markets, and aren’t looking to be the next big thing in the enterprise any time soon.

 

So What’s All This About NVMe [over Fabrics]?

According to Max and the team, NVMe over Fabrics is “the next big thing in [network] storage”. Here’s a photo of Max saying just that.

Why Hate SAS?

It’s not that people hate SAS, it’s just that the SAS protocol was designed for disk, and NVMe was designed for Flash devices.

SAS (iSCSI / iSER) NVMe [over Fabrics]
Complex driver built around archaic SCSI Simple driver built around block device (R/W)
Single short queue per controller One device = one controller, no bottlenecks
Single short queue per device Many long queues per device
Serialised access, locks Non-serialised access, no locks
Many-to-One-to-Many Many-to-Many, true Point-to-Point

 

You Do You, Boo

StarWind have developed their own NVMe SPDK for Windows Server (as Intel doesn’t currently provide one). In early development they had some problems with high CPU overheads. CPU might be a “cheap resource”, but you still don’t want to use up 8 cores dishing out IO for a single device. They’ve managed to move a lot of the work to user space and cut down on core consumption. They’ve also built their own Linux (CentOS) based initiator for NVMe over Fabrics. They’ve developed a NVMe-oF initiator for Windows by combining a Linux initiator and stub driver in the hypervisor. “We found the elegant way to bring missing SPDK functionality to Windows Server: Run it in a VM with proper OS! First benefit – CPU is used more efficiently”. They’re looking to do something similar with ESXi in the very near future.

 

Thoughts And Further Reading

I like to think of StarWind as the little company from the Ukraine that can. They have a long, rich heritage in developing novel solutions to everyday storage problems in the data centre. They’re not necessarily trying to take over the world, but they’ve demonstrated before that they have an ability to deliver solutions that are unique (and sometimes pioneering) in the marketplace. They’ve spent a lot of time developing software storage solutions over the years, so it makes sense that they’d be interested to see what they could do with the latest storage protocols and devices. And if you’ve ever met Max and Anton (and the rest of their team), it makes even more sense that they wouldn’t necessarily wait around for Intel to release a Windows-based SPDK to see what type of performance they could get out of these fancy new Flash devices.

All of the big storage companies are coming out with various NVMe-based products, and a number are delivering NVMe over Fabrics solutions as well. There’s a whole lot of legacy storage that continues to dominate the enterprise and SMB storage markets, but I think it’s clear from presentations such as StarWind’s that the future is going to look a lot different in terms of the performance available to applications (both at the core and edge).

You can check out this primer on NVMe over Fabrics here, and the ratified 1.0a specification can be viewed hereRay Lucchesi, as usual, does a much better job than I do of explaining things, and shares his thoughts here.

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