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NVMe-oF: Shared Storage Flexibility, Scalability & Performance


Whether you’re selling raincoats, developing vaccines or trading on Wall Street, data is the lifeblood of virtually every business today. Huge amounts of data are created, stored, analyzed and delivered across an expanding digital landscape where users, applications, IoT devices, and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms are interconnected —autonomously playing off each other to streamline workflows, create insights and execute critical missions.

Storage is an essential component for all the many possibilities that data enables. As the amount of data continues to expand exponentially, new ways of handling that data have also emerged as existing storage systems and architectures have their limitations.

Enter NVMe-oF.

NVMe-oF is a storage protocol, which stands for non-volatile memory express over fabric. It is changing data center and cloud storage landscapes, using Ethernet to extend the benefits NVMe™ SSD outside of servers and onto a shared pool of disaggregated storage. This disaggregated architecture dramatically improves flexibility, scalability and utilization of storage assets well-beyond the limits of today’s conventional systems.

Traditional hyperconverged infrastructure environments are susceptible to stranding storage resources, which results in underutilization of assets. HCI architectures are also generally based on a uniformed server-based architecture, so as workloads become more dynamic, IT managers have to build different servers for each workload. This can be costly and adds complexity.

From a TCO and asset utilization perspective, disaggregation is a better approach as IT managers can scale resources independently. However, the legacy way to doing this was to disaggregate storage using a SAS interface, which has its own challenges.

The challenge with SAS is that it’s running out of steam, and there’s no way to extend shared storage affordably. SAS also has limits on latency and limits on scale. To scale and share, SAS-based systems may require additional physical cabling and controllers, which can be complex and expensive to manage at scale. SAS is also reaching its end of life as there’s no new upgrades planned beyond SAS 4.0.

About a decade ago, NVMe started to replace traditional SAS (and SATA drives) – delivering faster speeds by using PCI Express® (PCIe®) as the underlying data transport layer. While the adoption of NVMe has accelerated in the data center over the past several years, the technology has limitations outside of the server.

NVMe is fantastic for direct-attached storage, but most systems are not designed to take advantage of NVMe capabilities, which makes sharing NVMe SSDs beyond their attached servers inefficient. When storage and computing occur in the same server, the full capacity and utilization of the storage often gets stuck – causing performance, provisioning and scale issues.

Adopting NVMe-oF enables scalable storage by allowing it to break free of the traditional direct connections of servers, and instead utilize composable disaggregated infrastructure (CDI) to share resources (including storage, compute, GPU, and FPGA) to avoid bottlenecks and stranded resources. This means that cloud storage service providers and organizations can be more flexible and agile, and dynamically allocate resources on the fly for today’s data-intensive applications. Coincidentally, modernizing with NVMe-oF also helps to future-proof enterprise IT infrastructure.

Fabric-attached NVMe allows NVMe flash resources to be shared among servers – providing improved utilization, availability and flexibility. NVMe-oF is a giant leap forward in accessibility and performance that allows CSPs and other organizations to deploy the benefits of shared flash storage more cost effectively.

Why Ethernet?

Ethernet enables the price-per-performance benefits of NVMe-oF. Ethernet is ubiquitous in the data center, in the cloud and on the edge of the network where the majority of workflows take place. It has the performance to support SSD sharing today and a roadmap that quadruples performance in the near future. Ethernet provides the right blend of performance, availability and cost to enable big data projects.

The value of NVMe-oF

NVMe-oF is the dynamic data storage fabric that can serve as the backbone of nearly every enterprise network. This allows IT architects to deliver storage resources on demand, avoid overprovisioning, improve utilization and enable faster data recovery.

  • Flexibility: NVMe-oF helps disaggregate storage from compute allowing resources to be allocated on the fly. This is especially useful for video streaming and other applications where demand ebbs and flows. Organizations or cloud service providers can independently add compute or storage resources during high-traffic periods without forcing them to add both at the same time. This also improves resource utilization rates, allowing service providers and organizations to manage their storage, compute and GPU resources more efficiently.
  • Performance: NVMe-oF is designed for low latency data access, and provides high transfer speeds. It leverages the NVMe protocol, which is inherently optimized for flash storage devices. This performance is crucial for applications that require real-time data processing and high-speed data access such as big data analytics, AI, and database applications.
  • Scalability: NVMe-oF is highly scalable, making it suitable for both small-scale and large-scale storage environments. Organizations can easily add more NVMe-oF storage devices to meet growing data storage needs without significant disruptions.
  • Future-Proofing: As a technology designed for high-performance storage, NVMe-oF is well-positioned to meet the evolving storage demands of modern applications. It offers a degree of future-proofing for organizations looking to stay competitive and adaptable in the long term.

Whether large or small, organizations can deploy NVMe-oF to help eliminate underutilized storage and performance bottlenecks, enabling the speed for today’s big data projects – such as AI, machine learning, IoT, video streaming and object storage initiatives.

The Future of Storage Infrastructure is Bright

NVMe-oF offers a big step forward in storage flexibility, scalability and performance — allowing CSPs and organizations to build shared storage environments that meet virtually any application need.

This flexible, scalable data storage fabric built on the back of the ubiquitous Ethernet protocol can enable storage resources on demand, avoid overprovisioning and improve storage efficiency — all requirements in today’s always-on, 24×7, hypercompetitive business environments.

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