No Wrinkles as Mellanox Powers NVMe over Fabrics Demos at Flash Memory Summit and IDF

Storage, Uncategorized, ,

Mellanox just rounded out a two very busy weeks with back-to-back trade shows related to storage. We were at Flash Memory Summit August 9-11 in Santa Clara, followed by Intel Developer Forum (IDF) August 16-18 in San Francisco. A common theme was seeing Mellanox networking everywhere for demonstrating the performance of flash storage.

The fun began at Flash Memory Summit with several demos of NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF). As my colleague Rob Davis wrote in his blog, the 1.0 standard and community drivers were just released in June 2016, and while FMS 2015 also featured NVMe-oF demos from Mangstor, Micron and PMC Sierra (now Microsemi), all were pre-standard and only Mangstor had a shipping product. Plus all the demos ran only on Linux.


Figure 1: NVMe over Fabrics is nearly always powered by RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet)

So it was extremely exciting this year to see FIVE demos of NVMe over Fabrics at FMS using Mellanox networking, with three of them available as products. All the demos either used the standard NVMe-oF drivers or were compatible with the standard drivers, and they showed initiators running on Windows and VMware, not just Linux.

  • E8 Storage showed a distributed, scale-out NVMe-oF software-defined storage solution
  • Mangstor showed a high-performance, scale-up NVMe-oF array, with initiators running on bare-metal Linux and on a Linux VM running on top of VMware ESXi
  • Micron showed a Windows NVMe-oF initiator interoperating with a Linux target
  • Newisys (division of Sanmina) showed a live NVMe-oF demo
  • Pavilion Data showed a super dense NVMe-oF custom array supporting up to 460TB, 40x40GbE connections, and up to 20 million IOPS, all in one 4RU box.

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Figure 2: Pavilion Data’s custom-engineered all-flash array supports up to 460TB of raw capacity, 120GB/s of throughput, and 20M IOPS, all running NVMe-oF with up to forty 40GbE connections.

But NVMe over Fabrics wasn’t the only flash demo to leverage Mellanox networking! Samsung demonstrated an impressive Windows Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) cluster that reached 80GB/s (640 Gb/s) of data throughput. It used just 4 Dell servers, each with 4 Samsung NVMe SSDs and two Mellanox ConnectX-4 100GbE RDMA-enabled NICs, all connected by Mellanox’s Spectrum 2700 100GbE switch and LinkX® cables. Samsung also showed an all-flash reference design with 24 NVMe SSDs, capable of supporting several storage solutions including Ceph.

Nimbus Data unveiled a new family of flashy arrays which all support iSER (iSCSI Extensions for RDMA) on top of RoCE. Nexenta and Mellanox released a joint white paper showing how to deploy a hyper-converged software-defined storage (NexentaEdge) solution using Micron SSDs and Mellanox 50Gb Ethernet.

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Figure 3: Nimbus Data’s Exaflash C-series supports up to 3PB raw flash and can connect at 100Gb/s with either Ethernet or InfiniBand

At IDF a week later, there were more flashy demos. This time HGST (a Western Digital Brand), Seagate, and Samsung, showed NVMe over Fabrics using Mellanox adapters. Newisys and E8 Storage returned with their NVMe-oF demos, while Samsung also brought back their glorious Windows S2D cluster. To add to the storage excitement, Plexistor showed a solution for Shared Persistent Memory (uses technology similar to NVMe over Fabrics). Atto demonstrated ThunderLink which connects Thunderbolt 3 devices to 40Gb Ethernet networks, and Nokia showed their Airframe OCP rack.


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Figure 4: Seagate showed a 2U NVMe-oF system with 24 Seagate Nytro XF1440 NVMe SSDs, while Atto’s ThunderLink™ connects Thunderbolt™ 3 devices to 40GbE networks.

Even Intel themselves showed NVMe over Fabrics with Mellanox ConnectX-4 100GbE NICs, paired with their Storage Performance Developer Kit (SPDK) and an Intel Silicon Photonics 100GbE cable. (Mellanox LinkX cables also support Silicon Photonics for 100GbE speeds at distances up to 2km.)

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Figure 5: Intel showed NVMe over Fabrics using their SPDK software and Mellanox ConnectX-4 adapters.

The common thread across these demos at FMS and IDF? They all used Mellanox ConnectX-3 or ConnectX-4 network adapters, and they all ran at speeds of 25Gb/s or faster (many at 100Gb/s).  In fact as far as I could see, every single demonstration of NVMe over Fabrics used Mellanox adapters, except for demos by other network adapter or chip vendors who showed their own networking.

This is not surprising given that Mellanox adapters and switches are the first to support 25, 50, and 100GbE speeds, and the first and best at supporting low-latency RDMA— via InfiniBand or RoCE—for super-efficient data movement. In addition, ConnectX-4 makes RoCE—and thus NVMe over Fabrics—deployments easier by allowing RoCE to run with Priority Flow Control (PFC) or Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN), or both (see my blog about that).

The key takeaways from these recent events are as follows:

  • NVMe over Fabrics is now a released standard with working products from several vendors
  • NVMe-oF support is expanding to Windows and VMware, no longer Linux-only
  • The speed of flash absolutely requires faster network speeds: 25, 40, 50, or even 100Gb/s
  • RoCE on Mellanox adapters is by far the most popular RDMA solution for supporting NVMe over Fabrics
  • Other flash storage solutions—such as Windows Storage Spaces, NexentaEdge, Ceph, and Plexistor—also choose Mellanox networking for the higher performance and efficiency

Many of the presentations—some given by me and my colleagues—from these two shows are now available online (links in the Resources section below). And if you’d like to see more solutions leveraging the power and efficiency of Mellanox networking, look for Mellanox at an upcoming event near you.

Supporting Resources:


About John F. Kim

John Kim is Director of Storage Marketing at Mellanox Technologies, where he helps storage customers and vendors benefit from high performance interconnects and RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access). After starting his high tech career in an IT helpdesk, John worked in enterprise software and networked storage, with many years of solution marketing, product management, and alliances at enterprise software companies, followed by 12 years working at NetApp and EMC. Follow him on Twitter: @Tier1Storage

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