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Toshiba drives add Marvell cards to give native NVMe-over-fabrics

Piggy-backed cards allow drive shelves that can connect to remote servers as if directly attached and at NVMe speeds, with box maker Aupera getting in on the JBOF act

Toshiba has unveiled flash drives with native NVMe-over-fabrics support built in collaboration with Marvell.

The product – announced at Flash Memory Summit in August – allows access to arrays of solid state disk to which servers can connect natively through NVMe-over-fabrics (NVMf) as if they were directly attached.

The new drives – in U.2 format – are Toshiba NVMe SSDs, with a protocol converter from Marvell, the 88SN2400.

The converter comes in the so-called “interposer” form factor. It is built around an ARM system on a chip (SoC) and is deployed between the disk NVMe port and server chassis connectors.

The small card allows for the transformation of a dual-port NVMe card into an Ethernet NVMe-over-fabrics drive with two 25Gbps Ethernet ports.

Equipped with the Marvell NVMf card, Toshiba SSDs can be deployed in Ethernet-connected JBOF (just a bunch of flash) chassis like that from Aupera Technologies, also unveiled at the show.

This can take up to 24 flash drives in a 2U chassis equipped with two redundant Marvell embedded Ethernet switches to deliver 24 dual ports of 25Gbps Ethernet to drives and six 100Gbps uplink ports.

With NVMe-over-fabric controllers riding piggyback on flash drives, this chassis dispenses with the usual requirement for redundant Intel controllers, therefore boosting density of storage media as well as efficiency of power usage.

According to Toshiba, an Aupera JBOF equipped with Toshiba/Marvell hardware can deliver up to 16 million IOPS and around 150GBps of throughput at a lower price than traditional architectures and with lower energy consumption.

It also permits greater flexibility in building modular server architectures. Each flash drive is visible as a discrete target that can be assigned to host servers dynamically through the NVMf protocol.

This means it is not necessary to deploy flash drives in servers. Instead, servers can connect to JBOF disk as if they were directly attached and with a level of performance similar to drives connected by the internal PCIe bus.

The Toshiba architecture aims to simplify the realisation of so-called disaggregated infrastructures in which servers without internal storage can consume flash media resources furnished on-the-fly by external JBOFs, with disk capacity released to other hosts after use.

JBOFs equipped in this way could also be used to extend the capacity of NVMe storage arrays. In this scenario, use of Ethernet and NVMe-over-fabrics allows for replacement of traditional SAS JBODs and simplifies the capacity expansion of storage array controllers.

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