Overcoming the Storage Networking Challenge by Beni Sia, Regional Director, South East Asia, Brocade Communications
One of the major user benefits of flash storage, is its ability to help deliver a performance level that lets applications respond immediately. This is especially apparent when dealing with delay-sensitive applications, high-definition video, and mobile computing; and many enterprise data centres already use it.
What is less well-known at user level, are the advantages of using flash storage in the data centre. These include lower power consumption, less heat production and lower latency than the traditional HDD spinning disk. Some vendors claim 600x better power efficiency and a 40x reduction in latency than HDDs,
Add to that, a smaller footprint and a fast return on investment – as well as better-performing applications, and you can understand why many enterprises have invested in flash storage in their data centres.
Overcoming the storage networking challenge
With the transition to flash, the data access bottleneck can sometimes be pushed away from storage devices and onto the network, and higher levels of traffic between storage and servers can rapidly oversubscribe your existing network links.
This can slow your flash implementation and lead to longer ROI cycles. So, while flash may deliver on the promise of better performance/throughput and lower latency, understanding the network challenge can be a critical issue for performance.
Companies that don’t have a balanced infrastructure of compute, storage and networking, may be minimising the performance/throughput and lower latency benefits of flash in their data centres, and the problem is set to become more widespread amongst many companies as flash is aggressively deployed across the industry to increase performance.
A storage protocol for flash
Your options can include the latest flash drive, an improved all-flash array or a network hardware solution. But will this address the issue? Another option is to start with Non-Volatile Memory Express ((NVMe), a storage protocol built specifically for flash and designed to improve data- and latency-sensitive applications.
NVMe sets out to reduce protocol overheads seen in traditional Fibre Channel and Ethernet encapsulation techniques and thus reduce latency.
A new industry protocol – NVMe over Fabrics - was announced last June, which allows NVMe instructions to pass natively across an existing network; adding strength to the protocol as it can now be extended over large storage fabrics.
Compared with NVMe over fabrics; 16G Fibre Channel, 40Gbe with iSCSI, file-based network file system (NFS) or server message block (SMB) will all cause network bottlenecks.
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.
There’s a growing requirement to extend this low-latency protocol over storage fabrics in those situations where shared storage solutions can benefit, despite NVMe’s past and current association with direct server attached storage. Another potential benefit of NVMe is that it promises scaling of up to 1,000 shared storage devices.
Because NVMe over Fabrics dramatically reduces latency and eliminates the need for SCSI translation by directly transferring NVMe commands and structures from end to end, applications run faster or scale better. This lets companies perform ultra-fast data transfers across large-scale networks, which most businesses need today for business-critical applications
Similarly, NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe) works with flash storage to ensure you get the performance you originally wanted, and it provides the additional reliability and performance of a Fibre Channel network.
Running NVMe natively across a Fibre Channel network extends the benefits of flash storage and maintains flash simplicity and efficiency, while eliminating the need for translation. That gives you higher application performance, more data storage, better analytics and more personalisation of information.
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 might want to prepare with Gen6 Fibre Channel solutions as you move toward NVMe over time.
Preparing for NVMe and NVMe over fabrics
By investing today in hardware that supports NVMe, you can ensure your network and storage are optimised to support enterprise data centres, mobile computing, high-performance computing, relational databases and other uses of the technology.
As applications continue advancing and virtualization permeates the data centre, flash storage will continue growing. Understanding how much bandwidth response your applications require — and what application response time growth you may need — is critical for planning.
Adapting your 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. 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.