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Guide: NVMe Promises Speed, SSD Optimization

One of the things that we know about the technology sector is that from the time that a new, core product steps out of the lab it starts to build in complexity.

Then, over the course of years, performance enhancements, compatibility requirements, and attempts at vendor differentiation add layer after layer of complexity. Every now and then, it might not hurt to do an industrywide equivalent of flushing the cache, to look at new ways to simplify how various system components interact. Basically, it means gettting a fresh start.

That's the logic behind Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe), an effort to boost performance by letting storage devices communicate directly with a system's PCIe bus and system memory.

Where NVMe really comes into play is when that storage is based on high-performance, solid-state drives (SSD). The disk interface chip is replaced by NVMe and the drive itself selects jobs out of a queue. The performance gains should be most noticeable and valued in heavily transaction oriented applications and big data environments.

The industry group behind the NVMe standard is the NVMHCI Work Group, which claims 90 member companies. As of late June, the group listed just over a dozen NVMe-based products introduced since late 2013, including controllers, design and test equipment, and storage devices. The website also has a calendar of related events, details on NVMe specifications and drivers, and this 90-second video highlighting NVMe performance on several benchmarks:

So NVMe is an emerging market, but then again, so is the enterprise or datacenter SSD sector that NVMe is expected to serve. There is no shortage of industry analysts predicting rapid adoption of SSD at the enterprise level, now that products are maturing.

Check out these additional resources to learn more about NVMe:

  • NVMe Poised To Revolutionize Solid-State Storage. Blogger Jim O'Reilly offered a nice overview of how NVMe works, why it matters, and who should care.
  • Testing Fuels The NVMe Revolution. David Woolf at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory explained how NVMe products are being tested at the UNH-IOL, including through multivendor plugfests.
  • SSD Fears Remedied By SAS, Flash. In this 2013 article, Jim O'Reilly highlighted some of the reasons -- such as raw performance and improvements in the reliability of flash technology -- behind his belief that SSD was ready to take off. It did.
  • Putting Flash On The Memory Bus. Blogger Howard Marks took a look at another approach to moving SSD-based storage closer to where the real work gets done in the CPU.
  • VMware's VSAN Benchmarks: Under The Hood. You might be wondering what this performance might cost you. Howard Marks looked at the performance numbers and costs associated with VMware's VSAN, including what an investment in NVMe would buy if it was inserted into VMware's test configuration.