In a matter of just a few years, SSDs have rapidly dominated the consumer market. Now it is the turn of a new generation of SSD for enterprise, which makes the mechanical hard drive seem a distant memory. How are NVMe configurations used alongside SSDs in the data centre?

 

Summary

SSDs have increasingly replaced most mechanical hard drives in consumer products, and although the technology is still more expensive per gigabyte, the benefits of SSDs are increasingly significant. SSDs are faster, quieter and more energy efficient than their mechanical predecessors.

On the server side, SSD has not had the same revolution. The enterprise marketplaces demands on-storage media that consumer products cannot meet. Now, however, a new generation of SSD has been developed specifically for server environments. This new generation of SSDs promises to overcome these restrictions and to offer superior performance combined with competitive prices. This article discusses how this new generation of server SSDs enables data centres to support future growth in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) or the availability of real-time data.

 

Data trends

IDC’s recent ‘Data Age 2025’[1] study predicts that the amount of data generated globally will increase to 163 zettabytes  (equal to 1.63 trillion gigabytes) by 2025, which is about ten times the data generated in 2016. The study not only highlights the tremendous growth in the quantity of data, but also the changes in the role it plays in our life. ‘Data Age 2025’ mentions the following five major trends that affect the development of the quality of data:

1)    Data will become more and more life-critical: according to IDC’s prediction 20% of the generated data will be critical and 10% hypercritical to our daily lives.

2)    The connection of digital devices: embedded systems and IoT will play a vital role in nearly every part of our lives, and IDC forecasts that we will be connected and interact with these devices on average 4,800 times a day.

3)    Availability of data: data will be increasingly real-time and mobile which means that instant availability is required.

4)    AI as a game changer: the amount of data generated requires, as well as enables, new technologies such as cognitive systems (e.g. language processing or machine learning) for processing them. These systems themselves will produce a vast amount of new data while working with already existing data.

5)    Security: the amount of data that is sensitive, private or should be kept confidential will increase to about 90% by 2025, but only about 50% of it will be secured.

The changes mentioned above require significant advances in data processing power as well as data storage. These technology advances then continually drive the development of new applications, technologies and services themselves. The development of NAND flash technology and subsequently SSDs can be considered both an essential requirement for processing and storing vast amounts of data and an enabler for the development of new technologies.

 

PCIe and NVMe: a new standard and its benefits

SSDs were initially – and many of them are still being – built with hard drive interfaces. To work in computers, indeed, they needed to utilise the existing connections developed for conventional hard drives, as well as look like HHDs in order to achieve initial acceptance. The SATA interface that is used to connect mass storage devices to a computer, however, is a limiting performance factor for SSDs. This is due to the fact that it can only transfer a maximum of 600MB/s (SATA 3). To take full advantage of the benefits of NAND flash chips in SSDs such as the superior speed, a new interface had to be created. The PCI Express bus and technology enabled the NVMe standard to take off, with performance surpassing those using traditional SATA interfaces. This new standard allows for data transfers up to 2,000MB/s per lane (PCIe Gen4). Using a maximum of 16 lanes, PCIe Gen 4 offers transfer speeds of up to 32,000MB/s. This new driver standardises how SSDs are connected to the PCIe bus.

Apart from the ability to transfer 25x more data than SATA, PCIe and NVMe come with further benefits such as the superior speed. This is due to the NVMe driver sending its commands much faster than the AHCI driver used by SATA, communicating directly with the system’s CPU (rather than through a SATA controller). This means that PCIe and NVMe enable organisations to deal with vast amounts of data.

There are additional benefits to using NVMe configurations in a data centre environment. Indeed, a configuration using a single SSD can replace 10 – 12 SATA SSDs together with the controller cards associated with them, leading to 80% reduction in the parts used, meaning that less hardware needs to be deployed in a server environment. For example, in a server farm where hundreds of thousands of racks are employed, a reduction of this size makes a difference, resulting into a lowered administrative effort, a 70% drop in power consumption compared to SATA SSDs, as well as less cooling requirements, contributing to a further reduction in the TCO.

 

Kingston’s NVMe solution

Kingston Technology invested heavily in product development and innovation to support the growth in this area and partnered with Liqid, a start-up company in the data centre industry. Utilising Liqid’s expertise in the field of PCIe and Kingston’s experience in NAND technology, they jointly developed the DCP1000, one of the fastest NVMe data centre SSD solutions on the market. The DCP1000 is a high-capacity and high-performance solution that enables data centres to reach the previously described next-level performance required for applications like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality or Internet of Things. For data centres, this means they can do more with less by making use of Kingston’s and Liqid’s NVMe solution DCP1000.

 

by Kingston Technology

[1] IDC (2017), Data Age 2025. Available at: https://www.seagate.com/files/www-content/our-story/trends/files/Seagate-WP-DataAge2025-March-2017.pdf