New HPE StoreFabric M-series Switches Power Ethernet Storage Fabric

Ethernet Storage Fabric

HPE Launches New Ethernet Switches for Storage

Today, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced their new StoreFabric M-series Ethernet switches, which are built on Mellanox Spectrum switch technology. This is an exciting new product line, specifically designed for storage workloads and ideal for building an Ethernet Storage Fabric (ESF). The switches are perfect for building fast and scalable storage networks for block, object, and file storage, as well as hyper converged infrastructure (HCI). They make it easy to start by connecting a few nodes in a rack then scale up to a full rack, and later, to hundreds of nodes connected across many racks, running at speeds from 1GbE up to 100GbE.

Figure 1: HPE StoreFabric M-series switches are ideal for building an Ethernet Storage Fabric


Why HPE Needs an Ethernet Storage Switch

HPE has long sold Fibre Channel SAN switches but this is their first Ethernet switch specifically targeted at storage. It turns out, Ethernet-connected storage is growing much more rapidly than FC-SAN connected storage, and about 80 percent of storage capacity today is well suited for Ethernet (or can only run on Ethernet).  Only 20 percent of storage capacity is the kind of Tier-1 block storage that traditionally goes on FC-SAN, and even most of that block storage can also run on iSCSI or newer block protocols such as iSER (iSCSI RDMA) and NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF, over Ethernet RDMA).

If you look at HPE’s extensive storage lineup, the products which are more focused on Ethernet are growing much faster than those focused on Fibre Channel.

  • The very high-end Enterprise XP are probably growing very slowly and are almost entirely FC or FCoE connected.
  • The high-end 3PAR arrays are growing modestly and are mostly FC-connected (I would guess 75 percent FC today) but their Ethernet connect rate is rising.
  • The HPE Nimble Storage arrays were growing at a robust 28 percent/year when HPE acquired Nimble, and are mostly Ethernet-connected (I’d guess at least 70 percent Ethernet).
  • The HPE Simplivity HCI solution is growing super quickly and is 100 percent Ethernet.

HPE also has key storage software partners who specialize in file storage (like Qumulo), object storage (like Scality), and hyper converged secondary storage (like Cohesity). And HPE servers also get deployed with other HCI or software-defined storage solutions such as VMware VSAN, Ceph, and Microsoft Windows Storage Spaces Direct — all products which require Ethernet networking. So, while Fibre Channel remains important to key HPE customers and storage products, most or all of the growth is in Ethernet-connected solutions. It makes perfect sense for HPE to offer a line of Ethernet switches optimized for Ethernet storage.


Figure 2: The HPE M-series switches support many kinds of storage arrays, tiers, and HPE storage partners.


There is No Fibre Channel in the Cloud

Currently, about the single most powerful trend in IT is the cloud. Workloads are moving to the public cloud and enterprises are transforming their on-premises IT infrastructure to emulate the cloud to achieve similar cost savings and efficiency gains. All the major cloud providers long ago realized that Fibre Channel is too expensive, too inflexible, and too limited as a storage network for their highly-scalable, super-efficient deployments. Hence, all the public clouds run both compute and storage on Ethernet (except for those that need high performance and efficiency and therefore run on InfiniBand), and large enterprises are following suit. They are deploying more virtualization, more containers, and more hyperconverged infrastructure to increase their flexibility and agility. As enterprises build private and hybrid clouds using HPE storage and servers, it makes sense that they would look for fast, reliable HPE Ethernet switches to power their own cloud deployments.


Mellanox Spectrum is Ideal for Storage Networking

Now what kind of Ethernet switch is ideal for storage?  First it must be FAST, meaning high-bandwidth, non-blocking, and with consistently low latency. As noted in my previous blogs, faster storage needs faster networks, especially for all-flash arrays. HPE is the world’s #1 enterprise storage systems vendor according to IDC (IDC Worldwide Quarterly Enterprise Storage Systems Tracker, 2Q 2017) so we can assume they sell more flash storage than just about anyone else. These faster systems need faster connections. While Fibre Channel recently reached 32Gb/s, there are already all-flash arrays on the market making full use of 100Gb Ethernet. And 100GbE delivers 3x the performance of 32Gb FC at 1/3rd the price — at a 9x advantage in price-performance.

The trend amongst top storage vendors is also to support NVMe SSDs and the NVMe over Fabrics protocol, which requires higher bandwidth, lower latency, and an RDMA-capable network. HPE Servers — one of the world’s most popular server brands — already support 25, 40 and 100GbE networking (most often with Mellanox adapters), and we can assume that HPE Storage flash arrays will support faster Ethernet speeds such as 25, 40, 50, or 100GbE in the future.

This means an Ethernet storage switches needs to be ready to support these faster speeds  with high-bandwidth but also with features like: RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), non-blocking, ZeroPacketLoss, consistently-low latency, etc. Mellanox Spectrum switches, and now HPE StoreFabric M-series switches, are best in class in all these categories.


What is an Ethernet Storage Fabric?

Beyond performance, the ideal Ethernet storage switch should offer Flexibility and Efficiency. That means efficient form-factors that support many ports in just one RU of space. It should support all Ethernet speeds and allow easy upgrades to port speeds, port counts, features, and the network architecture. And, of course, it should have low power consumption, be easy to manage, and be affordable, with flexible pricing and financing.

The HPE StoreFabric M-series switches combine the best of Mellanox and HPE innovation and technology. The unique form factors allow high-availability and up to 128 ports (at 10/25GbE speeds) in one RU of space. The switches deliver consistently low latency across all speeds and port combinations, letting different server and storage nodes use different speeds without any performance penalty. They support speeds up to 100GbE and have the best support for Ethernet RDMA, traffic isolation, security, telemetry, and Quality of Service (QoS).

Figure 3: HPE StoreFabric M-series Switches Support an Ethernet Storage Fabric


StoreFabric M-series Make Your Storage Network Future-Proof

Thanks to flexible licensing, customers can start with as few as 8 ports per switch and upgrade the port count as needed. The same switches can be used to grow storage networks from one rack to many racks with hundreds of servers and ports, without needing to discard or replace any of the original switches. The port speeds can be upgraded easily from 10 to 25 to 40/50 to 100GbE speeds and the switch is ready to supported advanced storage protocols.

Even better, the M-series switches are designed to allow software upgrades and future integrations with specific storage, server, or cloud management tools. This means your network infrastructure investment in HPE M-series switches today will support multiple generations of HPE servers and storage arrays, making your storage network future-proof.

To learn more about the amazing new HPE StoreFabric M-series switches, contact your HPE channel partner or HPE sales rep today!

Figure 4: Upgradable port speeds, network architecture, and switch software make the HPE M-series switches future-proof.


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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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