Workload Acceleration Options for Blade Servers

I recently was asked what the demand for NVMe drives was, so I pinged my peers to see where they are seeing the adoption of NVMe (in rack or blade servers forms) and got a pretty interesting response.  This got me wondering what the options were for NVMe, as well as other acceleration technologies, in the blade server world.  Here is what I found.

Before I dig into my findings, it’s important to understand what NVMe is and what the interest is.  NVMe, or Non-Volatial Memory Express, is defined by Wikipedia as “flash memory that comes in the form of solid-state drives (SSDs) [with] a logical device interface, [that] has been designed from the ground up to capitalize on the low latency and internal parallelism of flash-based storage devices, mirroring the parallelism of contemporary CPUs, platforms and applications.”  NVMe removes the traditional storage controller and communicates directly with the CPU via PCIe thereby allowing substantial performance gains versus the traditional SSD via SAS connectivity model.

The Register published a nice image that shows where NVMe fits in the grand scheme of storage:

intel_storage_hierarchy_today

Use Cases for NVMe

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, I queried some of my peers throughout the world about where they are seeing adoption of NVMe within their customers and here is what they provided me (in no particular order.)

  • High IOP requirements
  • vSAN caching tier
  • VDI acceleration
  • Database acceleration
  • Software Defined Storage
  • VMware cache Flash Read Cache
  • Transaction based files (i.e. Oracle / SQL)
  • VMware – to solve issues with storage performance during backups
  • caching layer in DAS cache scenarios
  • analytics/big data (performance layer)
  • OpenStack Cloud structure (specifically CEPH High Performance Storage Layer)
  • Video-on-Demand services – storing most wanted or newest content
  • Billing system platforms
  • high frequency trading
  • web analytics/metadata in OpenStack deployment

Specific application Use Cases

In addition to the use cases, some of my peers provided specific applications.  I thought it might help readers, so here is that list:

  • Hyperion (an Oracle Financials package)
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Aerospike
  • Apache Cassandra
  • MySQL
  • mongoDB
  • Microsoft Storage Spaces
  • Terradata (analytics)
  • SAP HANA

Why Not NVMe?

Along with the long list of applications that work well for acceleration with NVMe, I got a short list of why customers aren’t interested in this technology:

  • too expensive
  • no RAID option – relies on the O/S to provide protection since there is no RAID controller
  • SSD speeds coming close to NVMe – a Toshiba PX04SM, Mixed Use SSD can achieve close to 340,000 IOPs (random read, 4k)
  • hard to see the value for the price

Acceleration Options for Blade Servers

Below is a chart of what you can find for your blade server needs from the Tier 1 vendors.  For details, reference the links in each listing.  Also, please contact your vendor for specifics as certain configuration restrictions may exist.

Vendor Description Performance in IOPs*
Cisco  1600 GB Fusion ioMemory3 SX Scale line for B-Series  235,000
1300 GB Fusion ioMemory3 PX Performance line for B-Series 235,000
Dell EMC 800GB NVMe, Mixed Use Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, PM1725 650,000
800GB NVMe, Performance Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, SM1715 650,000
1.6TB NVMe, Mixed Use Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, PM1725 700,000
1.6TB NVMe, Performance Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, SM1715 700,000
3.2TB NVMe, Mixed Use Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, PM1725 700,000
3.2TB NVMe, Performance Express Flash, 2.5″ Hot-Plug Drive, SM1715 700,000
6.4TB NVMe, Mixed Use Express Flash, Half-Height, Half-Length PCIe Card, PM1725 800,000
6.4TB NVMe, Performance Express Flash, Half-Height, Half-Length PCIe Card, PM1725 800,000
 HPE HP 400GB NVMe PCIe Read Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 150,000
HP 400GB NVMe PCIe Mixed Use SFF 2.5-in SC2 130,000
HP 400GB NVMe PCIe Write Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 150,000
HP 800GB NVMe PCIe Mixed Use SFF 2.5-in SC2 140,000
HP 800GB NVMe PCIe Write Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 155,000
HP 1.2TB NVMe PCIe Read Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 141,000
HP 1.6TB NVMe PCIe Mixed Use SFF 2.5-in SC2 140,000
HP 1.6TB NVMe PCIe Write Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 140,000
HP 2TB NVMe PCIe Mixed Use SFF 2.5-in SC2 145,000
HP 2TB NVMe PCIe Read Intensive SFF 2.5-in SC2 145,000

*Random read operations at 4-KB block size

Conclusion

As with most things, the application use is going to drive the configuration.  If you have a need for high IOPs close to the CPU, then NVMe might be the way to go – however be prepared as most blade designs will be limited to a few drives, so talk to your vendors or your partners and talk through your options.  As always, if I have omitted any options, please let me know.  Thanks for reading.

If you have suggestions on future topics, please comment below.  Ideas, comments or errors are greatly appreciated!
Kevin Houston - Founder, BladesMadeSimple.comKevin Houston is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BladesMadeSimple.com.  He has over 20 years of experience in the x86 server marketplace.  Since 1997 Kevin has worked at several resellers in the Atlanta area, and has a vast array of competitive x86 server knowledge and certifications as well as an in-depth understanding of VMware and Citrix virtualization.  Kevin has worked at Dell EMC as a Server Sales Engineer covering the Global Enterprise market since August 2011.

 

Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are personal views and may or may not reflect any of the contributors’ employer’s positions. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any employer.

 

 

 

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