TORONTO – Micron Technology has created a new Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) over Fabric architecture ahead of standards development that is pushing it further along in its evolution toward becoming a storage company.
Today at its flash storage summit in New York, the company announced the Micron SolidScale architecture for low-latency, high-performance access to compute and storage resources. In an advance telephone briefing with EE Times, senior product line manager Andy Fisher said NVMe over Fabric standard in development is still somewhat immature, but that the SolidScale software-defined storage architecture will provide the benefits of shared storage with performance of server-side flash. “What we're really talking about is innovating ahead of the standard," he said. “We think there's too much value here to wait."
One “epidemic issue" that SolidScale will address in the data center is CPU underutilization, said Fisher, which he said are starving for data, as NVMe SSDs deployed in application servers today are on average using less than 50 percent of their IOPS and capacity. He said the goal is to “democratize" NVMe SSDs. Micron's scale-out storage infrastructure provides the same benefits of a centralized, single pool of storage with the performance of local in-server SSDs.
SolidScale connects multiple nodes using high-speed RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) Mellanox fabric with low-latency software to deliver a converged infrastructure that performs like local direct attached storage. Micron's reliminary tests of the new platform measured more than 10.9 million IOPS with only three 2U SolidScale nodes. Fisher said this tackles the current problem of having to overprovision NVMe SSDs and will bring the technology to the mainstream. “We think the NVMe over Fabric architecture is something that can help it get there," he said.
Fisher emphasized that SolidScale is not a product with ship dates or pricing. It's an architecture, which is now available to key Micron customers and partners to test their own application workloads within existing data center environments. Based on customer validation and testing of the architecture, volume production of the Micron SolidScale platform is expected to begin in early 2018.
Micron is not the only company trying to push NVMe SSD adoption forward. Despite a growing ecosystem, the technology has been slow to take off. Last month, Israeli startup E8 Storage announced it had opted to put HGST's Ultrastar SN200 PCIe SSDs into its NVMe enclosures as part of its efforts to leverage dual port NVMe technology in its all-flash arrays.
Fisher acknowledged that taking advantage of dual port NVMe is one approach that can democratize flash, but that SolidScale is quite different.
Based on customer validation and testing of the architecture, volume production of the Micron SolidScale platform is expected to begin in early 2018.
Meanwhile, Pivot3 recently launched Acuity, its hyper-converged infrastructure offering that includes a policy-based management engine optimized to make the most efficient use of NVMe PCIe.
Ben Bolles, the Pivot3's VP of products, said the platform's multiple-tier architecture makes intelligent use of the NVMe in the system. It's not unlike how early storage arrays incorporate flash delegated workloads based on performance requirements of the application, with high priority workloads running on SSDs and lower priority activities relegated to spinning disk. “Because we have NVMe in our data path, we have a more efficient data path," he said. “We can allocate more resources to the customer applications."
Pivot3's software architecture, developed over a number of years, manages the flash from both a performance and endurance perspective, said Bolles, to balance performance and reliability. “Layered on top of that is a performance Quality of Service engine that allows a customer to slice and dice the performance benefits they get out of NVMe," he said. “They can now prioritize for their applications and allocate it to their mission critical workloads."
Bolles said there has been a move toward lower endurance flash in enterprise use cases and workloads which translates into less overprovisioning. “There are a number of techniques vendors have used to take the lower endurance flash and get more of out of it," he said. “We do see a lot of platform vendors making servers and storage systems and chassis to that are beginning to support a lot more NVMe device connectivity."
Micron's SolidScale architecture in the meantime has moved the company closer to becoming a storage company, a path it started down last year with the opening of its Micron Storage Solutions Centerin Austin, Texas. Eric Burgener, research director for IDC's storage practice, said it's certainly not the first components vendor that has moved in that direction. Western Digital has taken a similar road through in part through its acquisition strategy. “Seagate has tried to make some of the same moves although they are far behind Western Digital," he said.
As components become more commoditized, he said, margins are getting tighter, so companies like Micron are looking for higher margin business. “Building an integrated product is one way to do it," Burgener said. However, he added, they need to be careful how they do it. “When they start to create more of a systems product, they run the risk of upsetting their downstream customers," he said.
Micron's move also comes at a time when incumbent enterprise storage vendors are moving toward software-based offerings because that's where the value is, and while they need good hardware as part of the overall package, the custom hardware market is challenging, said Burgener, noting that Dell EMC recently discontinued its custom hardware DSSD product.
Right now, there are a handful companies that sell a storage system that includes NVMe over Fabric, but it's not a standard, it's a custom product, said Burgener. NVMe over Fabric needs to become more standardized if it's going to compete with SCSI, which still has a lot of head room left, as many systems still come nowhere near to fully taking advantage of the available performance, he said, although over the longer term, NVMe will replace it.
Ultimately, Micron's approach should help the maturation of NVMe, said Burgener. "This well help things move forward."
—Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.