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Enabling Fast, Flexible and Scalable Storage with NVMe and SCM

Data-driven organisations aim to capitalise on emerging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics. As data volumes continue to grow exponentially, they are focused on future-proofing their IT architecture without undergoing a major upgrade to accelerate digital transformation.

Cloud technologies are the catalyst engine for digital transformation, built on the principles of scale, flexibility and pay for use. These concepts are now being brought to storage and on-premise data centres.

“We are living in a multicloud world, where organisations are balancing business systems across both private and public clouds,” says Nick Dyer, principal systems engineer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) UK.

Organisations are eager to reap the benefits of cloud, but as Dyer points out, they can’t push everything off site due to requirements such as low latency or data placement. However, as big data analytics, machine learning, high-end media encoding and other technologies become business-critical services, organisations need on-premises platforms to offer the same levels of flexibility and scalability provided by cloud.

Future-proof storage for business goals
Having data storage that is flexible, robust and scalable to meet business goals now and years down the line is key to future-proofing an organisation’s architecture.

IT chiefs are investing in flash storage for its promise of high speed and low latency, but to future-proof their businesses for the next generation of business services, they require technology that can harness the advantages of new developments provided by NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) and SCM (storage-class memory).

Organisations are now exploring how NVMe, a new data protocol for accessing high-speed storage media, and SCM, which is a very low latency storage media, can facilitate high-performance transaction processing, real-time analytics and emerging technologies.

NVMe has revolutionised the consumer world, but it is not yet widespread in corporate environments. A key reason for this is that the SCSI protocol, which is used inherently for data transfer, has and remains dominant for connecting applications and servers to data storage devices, typically over Ethernet or Fibre Channel fabrics. NVMe aims to reinvent the storage stack to take advantage of low-latency, fast-access flash media.

“Flash media has disrupted storage, but applications and servers are still attached to a monolithic product, SCSI, that was developed over 30 years ago. It’s like strapping a Porsche with wheels built for a Mini,” says Dyer.

An enabler for digital transformation
Early adopters and data-driven organisations, including Formula One teams and financial services firms, have custom-built in-house solutions for specific pain points, but Dyer says it will take time for the new standard to commoditise and spread through industries to become a de facto standard.

“With digital transformation over the next 10 years, new technologies and standards will be a key enabler for enterprise and public-sector IT. NVMe has been put into various storage platforms today as a back-end storage layer, but the communication layer between storage and applications is still SCSI,” he says. “Without replacing the entire communication path end to end from SCSI with NVMe, there’s little tangible benefit from moving to an NVMe-based device as it stands.”

However, when the time is right, organisations will implement a full-scale migration to end-to-end NVMe technologies to revolutionise and harness the benefits. This will require potentially full-scale replacement of servers, network devices, storage fabrics and quite possibly the storage device itself—and it will not be an exercise taken lightly. This is where the hidden gotchas of storage vendor marketing is at play today.

To offset these pitfalls, the HPE Timeless Storage programme gives a complete NVMe upgrade guarantee for all HPE Storage technologies today, removing the need for a dreaded forklift upgrade in the future—at huge costs. It allows organisations to slot the technology in when they are ready without having to repurchase expensive new hardware and professional services.

“No matter what the roadmap, customers can swap out modular components in the Nimble array to enable a seamless upgrade as part of the Timeless Storage guarantee,” says Dyer. “It is changing the game for storage consumption by bringing a cloud consumption model on premises, removing the hardware Capex refresh burden and meeting the data requirement without performance issues to enable innovation.”

The benefits of NVMe and SCM
Interestingly, SCM is another flash technology that could potentially make a bigger impact to storage platforms in the near term. The technology, developed by Intel and Samsung, allows for PCIe-based flash storage to be attached, enabling very low latency data access without the need for protocol replacement.

“SCM changes the way organisations access storage by giving a huge caching performance boost to all-flash storage technologies without having to replace SCSI in the data centre,” says Dyer. “It is the first yet easy step, and a key enabler before NVMe is used end to end within three to five years, which involves replacing everything—servers, network cards, cables and switches.”

If organisations ignore storage advances, they will inevitably face a painful upgrade. However, IT directors can avoid that by selecting HPE 3PAR Storage or HPE Nimble Storage, which are designed for NVMe and SCM.

As organisations continue with digital transformation, a data strategy that incorporates the benefits of SCM and NVMe will help meet the challenges of how data is captured, preserved, accessed and transformed to ensure high performance and endurance of data at scale without breaking the budget.