Pushing Data to the Limits



Data demands are pushing traditional and cloud data centers’ limits. NVMe can remove the bottleneck and scale storage across mobile apps, client, and enterprise and data centers.

Data is everywhere and used by everyone today, from a Snapchat image to a YouTube video, to location data on personal mobile apps to files used in enterprise and business, there is a data explosion.

While everyone is trying to predict the number of devices that will be connected via the Internet of Things (IoT), we should also be looking at the amount of data the IoT will generate. Devices could generate as much as 600 ZByte each year by 2020—it was 145 ZByte in 2015.

The base for this data proliferation is also shifting. In 2015, the Cisco Global Cloud Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2015–2020 report predicted that by 2020, cloud data centers would process 92 percent of workloads, eclipsing that processed by traditional data centers. The same report predicted that data center storage installed capacity would increase nearly five-fold, in the same five-year period, rising from 382 exabytes to 1.8 zettabytes. (An EByte is 260 bytes and a ZByte is 270 bytes). The report also anticipated that data stored in data centers would grow at a similar rate, from 171 EBytes in 2015 to 915 EBytes by 2020. Big data alone, said the report, will account for 27 percent of data stored in data centers by 2020.

Data Acceleration
We all play our part in contributing to the data growth. While everyone is trying to predict the number of devices that will be connected via the Internet of Things (IoT), we should also be looking at the amount of data the IoT will generate. Devices could generate as much as 600 ZBytes each year by 2020—it was 145 ZBytes in 2015. Although not all data created is stored on the device, Cisco believes that data stored on devices will be five times the amount of data stored in data centers (5.3-ZByte by 2020).

The reason for all this data is to share it, with friends, colleagues, utilities, and customers. The connectivity has to keep up with the increased storage rates, and the low power consumption rates of mobile devices have to be factored when considering storage interface options. This is why the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) organization is working on NVMe 1.3 to address the needs of mobile devices. The NVMe consortium developed the original specification to create a scalable, flexible, broad bandwidth, and low latency, open specification for enterprise and client, NVM-based storage. Architecting it from the ground up, the working group was able to remove register sets, feature sets, and command sets to optimize performance and make it more efficient than legacy interfaces, such as the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI). The NVMe protocol allows enterprise, data center, and client systems to access Solid State Drives (SSDs) on a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) bus, as well as across fabrics to connect devices, networks, data centers, and cloud services.

NVMe Evolution
At this year’s Flash Memory Summit, Toshiba announced that it expects to complete development of the CM5 NVMe series of SSDs.

Figure-1-Toshiba_PM5_CM5_side_by_side

Figure 1: Toshiba’s CM5, shown alongside its PM5 Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) SSD, introduces 64-layer Flash memory for enterprise-class SSDs.

Demonstrated at the show in Santa Clara, California in August, the dual-port PCIe Gen 3 x4 SSDs are built using the 64-layer, three-bit-per-cell, Triple Level Cell (TLC) BiCS FLASHTM 3D memory stacking technology. They support multiple-stream write technology, and increase the number of Input Output Per Second (IOPS) to up to 800,000 random read and 240,000 random write IOPS for the five Drive Writes Per Day (DWPD) model and up to 220,000 random write IOPS for the three DWPD version. Maximum power draw, for both, is 18W. Capacities range from 800 GBytes to 15.36 TBytes, with Sanitize Instant Erase (SIE) and Trusted Computing Group (TCG) functions.

The company also demonstrated its BG3 series of single package, Ball Grid Array (BGA) SSDs, also built on its 64-layer TLC BiCS FLASH memory technology. The NVMe SSDs are designed for mobile devices, such as laptops and tablets, with a small footprint and a height of just 1.3mm. Integrated into the single package are a Toshiba-developed controller and firmware, with its Flash memory. For security, there are self-encrypting drive options with TCG Opal Version 2.01.

Figure 2: The small form factor BG3 SSDs use BiCS FLASH memory technology for mobile, enterprise applications.

Figure 2: The small form factor BG3 SSDs use BiCS FLASH memory technology for mobile, enterprise applications.

The design uses the NVMe specification’s Host Memory Buffer (HMB) to use the host memory to manage the Flash memory, for performance without integrated Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM), says the company. The SSDs have a PCIe Gen 3 x2 lane and are based on the NVMe Revision 1.2.1 architecture to deliver up to 1,520-Mbytes per second sequential read and up to 840-Mbytes per second sequential write times. They are offered in a surface-mount BGA module or a removable module and are available in 128-, 256-, and 512-GByte capacities.

Another exhibitor, Micron, introduced the 9200 series of NVMe SSDs. They are the second generation of NVMe drives from the company, and feature 3D NAND. According to the company, they deliver enterprise Flash performance that is up to 10 times faster than that of typical Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) SSDs, yet are able to conserve power and rack space with 3D NAND high density storage, with 900,000 IOPS. That’s based on 100 percent random 4-kbit read performance, compared with a typical Tier 1 data center SATA SSD’s average IOPS of 85,000, says Micron. Capacity exceeds 10 TBytes, sufficient for target applications such as online transaction processing (OLTP) in retail sales, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, high-frequency trading, and high-performance computing.

Taking Shape
Another BGA offering is from Samsung. The PM971-NVMe is claimed to be the industry’s first NVMe PCIe SSD in a single BGA package. The integrated package has 16 48-layer, 256-GBit V-NAND Flash chips, a 20-nanometer 4-Gbit Low Power Double Data Rate Gen 4 (LPDDR4) mobile DRAM, and a Samsung controller. It measures 20mm x 16mm x 1.5mm and weighs one gram, making it suitable for use in mobile devices, Personal Computers (PCs), and slim notebook PCs.

Figure 3: Samsung’s PM971-NVMe SSD is in a single BGA package for space-constrained, mobile applications.

Figure 3: Samsung’s PM971-NVMe SSD is in a single BGA package for space-constrained, mobile applications.

Sequential read speed is up to 1,500 MBps, and 900 MBps is the rate of write speeds when using the company’s proprietary TurboWrite technology to temporarily use portions of the SSD as a write buffer. Samsung puts these figures into context for mobile and consumer applications, saying it equates to transferring a five-GByte-equivalent full High Definition (HD) movie in three seconds and downloading it in six seconds. Random read IOPS are up to 190,000 and 150,000 write IOPS. As well as the 512-GByte version, the company has announced 256- and 128-GByte options.

The announcement at Flash Memory Summit follows last year’s announcement for the V-NAND-based, M.2 form factor 960 PRO and 960 EVO SSDs, built on the NVMe protocol. Both use the PCIe Gen 4 x4 lane interface. They also have the company’s Dynamic Thermal Guard technology to protect the SSD’s operation even at extreme temperatures.

IOPS for the 960 PRO are up to 3,500 MBps sequential read transfer and 2,100 MBps write transfer speeds. For random read and write operations the performance is up to 440,000 MBps and 360,000-MBps, respectively. Capacities for the 960 PRO are 1 TByte, 2 TByte, or 512 GByte.

The 960 EVO is available in 1-TByte, 250-GByte and 500-GByte capacities. Sequential read and write speeds are up to 3,200 MBps and 1,900 MBps respectively, with random read speeds of up to 380,000 IOPS and up to 360,000 IOPS for random write operations.

Shortly after Flash Memory Summit closed its doors for another year, Taiwanese company ATP announced the NVMe-based M.2 2280 SSD. The 3D NAND Multi-Layer Cell (MLC) SSD has a PCIe Gen 3 x4 lane bus interface and offers between 128-GByte to 1-TByte memory capacity. Sequential read operations are up to 1,260 MBps, and sequential write operations are up to 980,000 MBps.

Figure 4: ATP uses the M.2 form factor for its SSD, targeting mission-critical applications.

Figure 4: ATP uses the M.2 form factor for its SSD, targeting mission-critical applications.

The company emphasizes the longevity and reliability for mission-critical applications of the SSD. There is wide temperature and extreme power cycling testing, it reports, together with temperature feedback and a thermal throttling mechanism for heat dissipation. These features make it suitable for industrial, medical imaging, IoT, and surveillance applications, as well as server and networking projects.

As the NVM Express Work Group develops Version 1.3 of the specification, manufacturers will be eager to see how NVMe can be used as storage interface across all platforms, from data center storage systems to mobile devices.


hayes_caroline_115Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.

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