QoM1610: Will NVMe over Fabric GA in enterprise AFA by Oct’2017

NVMeNVMe over fabric (NVMeoF) was a hot topic at Flash Memory Summit last August. Facebook and others were showing off their JBOF (see my Facebook moving to JBOF post) but there were plenty of other NVMeoF offerings at the show.

NVMeoF hardware availability

When Brocade announced their Gen6 Switches they made a point of saying that both their Gen5 and Gen6 switches currently support NVMeoF protocols. In addition to Brocade’s support, in Dec 2015 Qlogic announced support for NVMeoF for select HBAs. Also, as of  July 2016, Emulex announced support for NVMeoF in their HBAs.

From an Ethernet perspective, Qlogic has a NVMe Direct NIC which supports NVMe protocol offload for iSCSI. But even without NVMe Direct, Ethernet 40GbE & 100GbE with  iWARP, RoCEv1-v2, iSCSI SER, or iSCSI RDMA all could readily support NVMeoF on Ethernet. The nice thing about NVMeoF for Ethernet is not only do you get support for iSCSI & FCoE, but CIFS/SMB and NFS as well.

InfiniBand and Omni-Path Architecture already support native RDMA, so they should already support NVMeoF.

So hardware/firmware is already available for any enterprise AFA customer to want NVMeoF for their data center storage.

NVMeoF Software

Intel claims that ~90% of the software driver functionality of NVMe is the same for NVMeoF. The primary differences between the two seem to be the NVMeoY discovery and queueing mechanisms.

There are two fabric methods that can be used to implement NVMeoF data and command transfers: capsule mode where NVMe commands and data are encapsulated in normal fabric packets or fabric dependent mode where drivers make use of native fabric memory transfer mechanisms (RDMA, …) to transfer commands and data.

12679485_245179519150700_14553389_nA (Linux) host driver for NVMeoF is currently available from Seagate. And as a result, support for NVMeoF for Linux is currently under development, and  not far from release in the next Kernel (I think). (Mellanox has a tutorial on how to compile a Linux kernel with NVMeoF driver support).

With Linux coming out, Microsoft Windows and VMware can’t be far behind. However, I could find nothing online, aside from base NVMe support, for either platform.

NVMeoF target support is another matter but with NICs/HBAs & switch hardware/firmware and drivers presently available, proprietary storage system target drivers are just a matter of time.

Boot support is a major concern. I could find no information on BIOS support for booting off of a NVMeoF AFA. Arguably, one may not need boot support for NVMeoF AFAs as they are probably not a viable target for storing App code or OS software.

From what I could tell, normal fabric multi-pathing support should work fine with NVMeoF. This should allow for HA NVMeoF storage, a critical requirement for enterprise AFA storage systems these days.

NVMeoF advantages/disadvantages

Chelsio and others have shown that NVMeoF adds ~8μsec of additional overhead beyond native NVMe SSDs, which if true would warrant implementation on all NVMe AFAs. This may or may not impact max IOPS depending on scale-ability of NVMeoF.

For instance, servers (PCIe bus hardware) typically limit the number of private NVMe SSDs to 255 or less. With an NVMeoF, one could potentially have 1000s of shared NVMe SSDs accessible to a single server. With this scale, one could have a single server attached to a scale-out NVMeoF AFA (cluster) that could supply ~4X the IOPS that a single server could perform using private NVMe storage.

Base level NVMe SSD support and protocol stacks are starting to be available for most flash vendors and operating systems such as, Linux, FreeBSD, VMware, Windows, and Solaris. If Intel’s claim of 90% common software between NVMe and NVMeoF drivers is true, then it should be a relatively easy development project to provide host NVMeoF drivers.

The need for special Ethernet hardware that supports RDMA may delay some storage vendors from implementing NVMeoF AFAs quickly. The lack of BIOS boot support may be a minor irritant in comparison.

NVMeoF forecast

AFA storage systems, as far as I can tell, are all about selling high IOPS and very-low latency IOs. It would seem that NVMeoF would offer early adopter AFA storage vendors a significant performance advantage over slower paced competition.

In previous QoM/QoW posts we have established that there are about 13 new enterprise storage systems that come out each year. Probably 80% of these will be AFA, given the current market environment.

Of the 10.4 AFA systems coming out over the next year, ~20% of these systems pride themselves on being the lowest latency solutions in the market, and thus command high margins. One would think these systems would be the first to adopt NVMeoF. But, most of these systems have their own, proprietary flash modules and do not use standard (NVMe) SSDs and can use their own proprietary interface to their proprietary flash storage. This will delay any implementation for them until they can convert their flash storage to NVMe which may take some time.

On the other hand, most (70%) of the other AFA systems, that currently use SAS/SATA SSDs, could boost their IOP counts and drastically reduce their IO  response times, by implementing NVMe SSDs and NVMeoF. But converting SAS/SATA backends to NVMe will take time and effort.

But, there are a select few (~10%) of AFA systems, that already use NVMe SSDs in their AFAs, and for these few, they would seem to have a fast track towards implementing NVMeoF. The fact that NVMeoF is supported over all fabrics and all storage interface protocols make it even easier.

Moreover, NVMeoF has been under discussion since the summer of 2015, which tells me that astute AFA vendors have already had 18+ months to develop it. With NVMeoF host drivers & hardware available since Dec. 2015, means hardware and software exist to test and validate against.

I believe that NVMeoF will be GA’d within the next 12 months by at least one enterprise AFA system. So my QoM1610 forecast for NVMeoF is YES, with a 0.83 probability.