More Than Performance, NVMe-oF is About Flexibility
Traditional IT infrastructure is great for getting the most from an established architecture with needs for security and management. However, it is not always great for dealing with a rapidly changing environment. Today, the business world is awash in a continual tide of change and to be flexible and agile, a lot of business data has moved to the cloud. But not all jobs are suitable for the public cloud, so how will today’s data centers continue to enable business needs as they rapidly evolve?
A Major Change – from Networking to Fabrics
The last time there was a major change in data center storage infrastructure was about 20 years ago with the introduction of Fibre Channel storage area networks. They made it possible to pool storage and share it among different servers in a practical way. It also consolidated management to make operations more efficient. But in the world of cloud infrastructure, we can do better.
A new technology is on the scene, NVMe™ over fabrics (NVMe-oF™). You’re probably familiar with NVMe SSDs. They are a great way to expose fast NAND storage as they were designed to take advantage of flash’s parallel, low latency data paths, similar to high performance processor architectures. As they can plug into existing sockets for PCIe storage, they deliver screaming performance inside the server in a very easy to implement way.
Taking this advantage outside the server to make shared storage possible at speeds similar to direct attached storage is the domain of NVMe-oF. Combine NVMe-oF with remote direct memory access (RDMA) and you get something rather special. As software increasingly becomes the bottleneck, RDMA allows you to skip over some layers of software to further improve performance and massive connectivity. The massive connectivity, in turn, is a key enabling technology for disaggregation and composability aspects of the next generation data fabric.
Extending Performance to Flexibility
NVMe is a protocol that travels on a physical infrastructure like Fibre Channel, InfiniBand or Ethernet. While each network infrastructure has its value proposition, Ethernet has a big cost and installation advantage, of course, and is found in almost every enterprise in the world. Additionally, Ethernet is already known by IT staff and is running in most data centers, and as a storage fabric can be isolated from traditional networking subnets to enable highest possible performance and security for your data.
NVMe-oF and RDMA can leverage the existing Ethernet infrastructure and update it to provide the next generation data fabric that becomes the foundation of not only high-performant infrastructure, but also composable disaggregated infrastructure. In this way the advantages of the public cloud are brought into the enterprise and bring with it the agility that business needs to pivot for new opportunities. While the direct result of NVMe-oF is performance, in many cases the flexibility might provide the larger business advantage where IT becomes the enabler of change.
It Takes an Ecosystem
Recently I joined a webinar hosted by G2M Research with different companies sharing their perspectives regarding NVMe-oF. We all discussed what kind of steps are needed to take in order to take advantage of NVMe-oF and see a successful adoption. Not all NVMe-oF solutions meet the performance capabilities or the potential of this technology.
One of the things that distinguish Western Digital’s approach is the open nature of our offering, OpenFlex™. Effective data infrastructure relies on many software and hardware components and how they operate with one another. By implementing open standards, we can work with a multitude of vendors to create an interoperable ecosystem that drives innovation faster, gives businesses a greater freedom of choice and ensure Fabric Attached Devices that simply work together.
There are two aspects of Western Digital’s OpenFlex, an open API for programming and additionally, we have released a physical specification for hardware interoperability. The architecture allows for devices that could include more than just SSDs, for example HDDs, tape, FPGAs, and GPUs. We work closely with a broad ecosystem and invite third parties to participate, test and verify interoperability at our Open Composable Compatibility Lab.
Planning for NVMe-oF
Businesses are becoming more data-driven, and the data center is undergoing spectacular changes. Speed and performance will help you make better decisions, faster, and flexibility will be to acting on those insights.
While NVMe-oF can deliver screaming performance (last year we announced the fastest NVMe-oF™ open composable platform for shared accelerated storage), it also allows means being able to mix and match different combinations of resources so you can tune your environment to meet business needs and rebuild it on the fly as those needs change. NVMe-oF is as much about performance as it is about an all new flexibility for IT to enable business.
We are committed to an open environment for composable infrastructure:
Check out our Open Composable Compatibility Lab here.
Find out more about our OpenFlex composable Disaggregated Infrastructure here.
Erik is the Senior Director, Product Marketing of Western Digital's Data Center Systems, with 25+ years of experience in high tech storage.