NVM Express spec updated for data-intensive operations

The NVM Express 1.3 spec aims to make SSDs even faster for analytics and virtualization

NVM Express spec updated for data-intensive operations

This is another one of those geeky stories that actually has some significance. The Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) Express group has issued version 1.3 of its SSD spec, with emphasis on performance around analytics and virtualization. 

NVMe is a communications interface/protocol designed specifically for solid-state drives (SSDs) because the old standard, SATA, was a relic of the hard disk days and nowhere near fast enough to provide proper throughput for flash memory. 

The NVM Express organization consists of storage and flash vendors such as Intel, Samsung, Sandisk, Dell EM, and Seagate. NVMe works with the M.2 and PCI Express buses, which are considerably faster than SATA. For example, it can handle 65,000 queues instead of one like in SATA, which is idea for a server environment where there is a lot of I/O. 

NVM Express 1.3 adds new virtualization and streams features, along with a feature to erase data from a solid-state drive. It also includes forward compatibility with next-generation buses, including the PCI Express 4.0 that was released earlier this month. That spec is expected to double available bandwidth to 16Gb/sec. It’s expected to be available starting next year.

NVMe a popular standard in data center storage

The NVM Express 1.3 spec is the first full significant upgrade since November 2014, and in that time, NVMe has become a popular standard in data center storage. So, the group focused on the areas that matter most in data center hardware, such as accessing extremely large data volumes. It also incorporates existing features of other storage interfaces and protocols such as eMMC and ATA. 

For example, the Sanitize feature set comes from SATA and SAS drives and is a means of securely erasing the drive, ensuring that user data is not only removed from the drive but from all of its caches and the controller memory buffer, as well. The Sanitize command also allows for specific commands to destroy data, like block erase operations, overwriting, or destroying the encryption key. 

For virtualization, version 1.3 introduces a standard virtualization feature set that defines how Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) can be configured and used. So, a primary controller can be defined as a SR-IOV physical function and one or more secondary controllers defined as SR-IOV virtual functions for virtual machines.

The new virtualization enhancements will also allow for multiple namespaces, something that has not happened in SSDs up to now. A single drive can use multiple namespaces to partition its storage among several virtual controllers assigned to different VMs, with the potential for namespaces to be exclusive or shared among VMs.

The streams feature is designed to increase the durability of the SSDs by breaking up a single-write stream into multiple data streams tagged as either sequential or random. SSDs wear down through repeated writing to the cells, so anything that reduces cell writes will prolong the life of the drive.

All the details about the NVM Express 1.3 spec can be found in a white paper the organization published. It’s in PDF format.

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