by Woody Hutsell, AppICU
NVMe has taken the flash array market by storm if you consider the number of storage vendors getting in line to deploy NVMe SSDs inside their all flash arrays. NVMe inside the server (which is the basis for most all flash arrays) is an improvement over SAS or SATA due to the lighter protocol and is an improvement over PCI flash because it is hot swappable and in a drive form factor.
However, just as with the adoption of SAS SSDs inside all flash arrays, these early all flash arrays that include NVMe SSDs will be a figment of what is possible with the technology. Why? The first flash arrays using NVMe SSDs have the same fundamental software heavy architectures that are already wasting the speed of the internal SAS SSDs. The move to NVMe SSDs in these bloated solutions will result in some latency/IOPS improvements but ignore the problem that the storage platform is the bottleneck. Why is it that most all flash arrays, even those with low to no storage services, are in the 500 microsecond range for latency? One of the main reasons is the data path is littered with obstacles to low latency. It is the server architecture, the bulky operating system, the software RAID and clumsy storage services that are behind the terrible latency not the flash media or even the SCSI protocol.
If you find yourself waiting on a low latency NVMe driven all flash array, you can stop waiting (just as your application can stop waiting), because a solution is here and available now. The IBM FlashSystem 900, which has no software in the data path, is shipping with the low latency characteristics your applications demand. What’s more it doesn’t require proprietary host drivers like some competing solutions (EMC DSSD and E8). It uses industry standard Fibre Channel and InfiniBand to attach to your existing storage network. You might protest, the FlashSystem 900 does not use NVMe inside the storage array and you would be right. There is absolutely no NVMe inside the FlashSystem 900. There is no storage protocol inside the FlashSystem 900. Once the data hits the interface controller it ceases to be SCSI or PCI or NVMe. The only thing better than an improved protocol like NVMe, is no protocol. The FlashSystem 900, like many prior generations of FlashSystem solutions treats the flash inside the system like memory. The result is unmatched latency characteristics.
So what do you do with the FlashSystem 900 and its low latency? Make your applications faster. For many database driven applications, storage services are already provided at the application or relational database layer. The FlashSystem 900 is the perfect accelerator for these environments. For customers who have embraced software defined storage, the FlashSystem 900 is a software defined storage accelerators, just ask the customers who have accelerated IBM SAN Volume Controller and Spectrum Virtualize with FlashSystem. For customers who need the full storage services feature set in an integrated storage solution, the FlashSystem V9000 and FlashSystem A9000/A9000R include the FlashSystem 900 as the storage enclosure.
NVMe is full of promise for servers and for storage vendors willing to start fresh or further optimize their solutions to actually benefit from the technology. There are noteworthy examples of new solutions on the market designed for NVMe with encouraging performance gains. Oddly, the most noteworthy of these solutions are hard to deploy due to custom interface technologies and proprietary drivers (I think of these devices as standards based inside and proprietary outside). The FlashSystem 900 delivers all of the benefits of NVMe today but without requiring you to change your storage network. I think of it as proprietary inside but standards based outside. I think the choice between these options is easy. The fastest path to improved application performance is with the FlashSystem 900.
Woody, this is an excellent blog. I like the information you have presented. It feels like a fair and balanced discussion of new technology. Well done!
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