The growing influence of solid-state technology in enterprise storage environments is producing more than faster read/write performance in high-traffic settings.
It is poised to remake some long-standing relationships in networking circles as well.
Right from the start, SSD's utility as a near-line or even integrated memory system has been obvious. Through direct access to servers and workstations via the PCIe bus, solid state bypasses the bottlenecks that plague traditional storage networking architectures. Now, it seems SSD vendors are pushing that advantage to the extreme with a raft of new releases aimed at eliminating much of the latency and data congestion that has typified complex data environments for so long.
Marvell and OCZ, for example, have teamed up on a new ARM-based controller mechanism, the 88NV9145, designed to allow SSD manufacturers to build PCIe-based Flash configurations capable of 1.4 million IOPS and less than 50 microsecond latency. It also provides 128- or 256-bit AES encryption and an external DDR interface and four NAND Flash channels. Naturally, OCZ will be one of the first to make use of the controller, eyeing a new Z-Drive R5 said to be capable of 3.2 million IOPS and up to 12 TB of capacity.
PCIe and SSDs may work well together, but deployment issues are not fully settled just yet. As Intel's Robert Crooke told Storage Visions this week, there is a "war of specifications" brewing within the PCIe framework. Intel itself backs the NVM Express format, which Crooke says provides dramatic performance advantages for both drives and controllers. The format also recently got a crucial boost from France's IP-Maker in the form of a compliant IP core that bridges communications between the PCIe IP and the Nand Flash controller. Not only will this aid in IP offload from the motherboard, but it enables a unique driver that simplifies software development.
NVM is only one of many competing standards surrounding solid-state storage, however. As this chart from the Storage Networking Industry Association shows, formats run the gamut for everything from the driver to the HBA, with many areas still facing a range of solutions. The organization has a number of working groups aimed at integrating many of these formats, although it could be a while before the industry sees a truly universal SSD platform.
Still, the advantages of a PCIe-based SSD infrastructure are compelling. If all goes well, future data centers will be free of complicated and expensive storage network infrastructures in favor of a streamlined environment that is as responsive as PC RAM while still retaining the robustness and flexibility of Fibre Channel and iSCSI.