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Need storage scalability? Meet NVMe over PCIe

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 05/12/2020
Blog Category: cloud-and-data-centers

The CPU monster is hungry. Feed it with NVMe over PCIe. It’s your data center interface for storage scalability.

How scalable? The current generation of NVMe over PCIe storage is already more than 6x faster than SATA. Future generations are expected to be up to 26x faster.

As you might know, the NVM Express (NVMe) interface protocol allows host software to communicate with both enterprise and client SSDs via PCI Express (PCIe). That’s important because PCIe now comes standard on many modern servers.

In an earlier blog post, we looked at how NVMe over PCIe creates a great environment for storage innovation. In this post, we’ll look at how the protocol allows for extreme scalability, especially when compared with older SATA drives.

Up to 26x faster

Basically, the SATA interface is saturated. Sure, these drives are still used in data center servers, mainly because they are inexpensive to purchase. But the technology is no longer being developed. That’s a problem, because storage demands are rising quickly.

By contrast, PCIe is still very much in play, with at least 2 more generations expected. Already, the current generation of PCIe drives are up to 6.5 times faster than SATA III drives.

Looking ahead, it’s expected that PCIe 4.0 will be up to 13x faster than SATA III. And the generation after that, PCIe 5.0, will be up to 26x faster.

Greater efficiency too

Efficiency also gets a boost with NVMe over PCIe. As the following graphic, courtesy of Intel NVM Solutions Group, shows, simply moving from SATA HDD to SATA SDD (shown as step 1) gives you a big reduction in latency — and with latency, lower is better. Then, moving to a NAND SSD with NVMe over PCIe (step 2) eliminates the need for a controller, further lowering latency. Finally, moving to an Intel Optane SSD (step 3) lowers latency even more:

NVMe over PCIe interface efficiency

Another benefit from shifting to NVMe over PCIe is gaining more usable capacity. At higher capacities, the SATA interface actually limits performance.

Once you’re over about 12 TB, SATA performance can falls below the IOPS/TB baseline, according to NVM Solutions Group. But with NVMe over PCIe, you actually accelerate workloads at larger capacities.

Then there’s cost. Even though an individual SATA drive costs less to purchase than an individual NVMe over PCIe drive, it’s with the latter that you’ll save money.

That’s because you can do more with fewer drives. In one recent test, to get 4.6 million IOPS on a single core, NVM Solutions Group found you’d need 48 drives with SATA, but only 22 with NVMe over PCIe. In other words, the more capacity you need, the better your total cost of ownership will be.

Need to get scalable? Then get NVMe over PCIe using Intel Optane SSDs.

Learn more: Intel SSD with NVM Express Outperforms SATA SSDs


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