I just attended the annual IDC conference. The theme was Multiplied Innovation, meaning we are now in the second wave of their three waves look at the future for IT technology.
There was a lot of discussion about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) from various verticals. The digital transformation (DX) is also still a big subject. Important initiatives relating to this were:
- Using more real-time analytics (no surprise)
- Management and control of hybrid/multi-cloud environments (I heard a speaker say that in the Fortune 1000, organizations use at least 5 different cloud providers on average)
- Dealing with device growth and device communication especially with the upcoming 5G rollout.
Edge Computing was another highly discussed topic specifically around IIoT (Industrial IoT) and smart manufacturing. And don’t forget about AI. AI was mentioned in almost every session. This was mainly showcased from the consumer perspective and how pervasive it is, such as how everyone uses Google Maps on a daily basis. I wished they discussed more of the IT use cases, but this conference was more about business and market intelligence.
A couple of humorous stories about the deployment of AI were given. One case was a hotel in Japan that was the first all-robotic operated hotel in the world. But after a couple of months, they fired the robotic staff because they weren’t doing a good job! In another story, Amazon was using an AI-based recruiting tool, but after using it they realized that it was biased against women.
Probably the best session for me was an early morning talk on NVMe SSDs. IDC has a name for this new category called NAFA (NVMe All Flash Arrays or SAFA (SAS AFA). They predict by 2021 that over 50% of primary external storage will be on NAFA.
NVMe is purpose-built for speed with an architecture that uses PCIe to map operations through shared memory (frees CPU resources dealing with device I/O), simplifies internal software, and optimizes I/O with up to 64,000 queues, with each queue supporting 64,000 commands (this is instead of one queue for 32 commands for SATA or 2 queues for 256 commands for SAS!). As you can see, NVMe was designed with using flash in mind.
And where SATA III maxes out at a throughput of 600MB/s and provides read/write speeds in the neighborhood of 530/500 MB/s, NVMe SSDs have throughput as high as 32GB/s with half a million random read IOPs. Latency rates generally stay below 200 microseconds vs 100 milliseconds for SATA SSDs.
The ultimate future is what is being called computational storage. Computational storage devices run operating systems and execute applications inside SSDs, eliminating the need to move data between the storage and a host computer. You probably heard about Intel’s Optane cards; they sit between DRAM and NAND. In the meantime, storage vendors will be transitioning to NVMe either by using internal NVMe switched drive enclosures, NVMe SSDs to NVMe end-to-end fabrics.
Words of caution though about all the performance benefits of using NVMe. 3PAR tried replacing their SAS drives with NVMe-based drives in the lab and they found it didn’t provide much benefit. So now HPE is adding NVMe storage-class memory (SCM) drives to its 3PAR and Nimble arrays (750GB Intel Optane drives). SCM has near-DRAM speed while being cheaper than DRAM and enabling greater capacity than DRAM’s 12 x 128GB DIMMs/Xeon SP CPU limitation. HPE brags about being the “first” enterprise storage platform available with SCM and NVMe.
Pure Storage and IBM have already added NVMe flash drive support but not SCM support. Pure and NetApp already have end-to-end NVMe from drive to controller to fabric via FC-NVMe. INFINIDAT already leverages DRAM and SSD (soon to be SCM). WekaIO won the world record SFS benchmark (the SFS benchmark used to test NFS and SMB performance) by leveraging NVMe SSDs.
It’s a good time for IT to be asking itself about thoughts on deploying NVMe technology. Companies will definitely have to upgrade their network to 100Gb but then they will have an order of magnitude improvement in I/O performance (microsecond vs millisec). This is probably one of the biggest hardware tech advances we’ve seen in the data center in a while. I think NVMe will be one of those technologies that drive the Multiplied Innovation phase.
If you have any questions, or would like to chat with an expert, about this topic, please reach out, we’d love to chat!