Flash experts talk futures - Embedded.com

Flash experts talk futures


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — New persistent memories and techniques promise to reshape computing. At the Flash Memory Summit here, engineers talked about how they are driving shifts in everything from server design and network storage to machine learning and flash chip prices.

One of the hot topics of the event was closing the gap between flash storage arrays on the network and solid-state drives (SSDs) on the server. The idea that systems could access flash memory whether it is local or on the other side of the data center is driving new system, silicon and software designs.

Fueling the trend, the NVM Express group just released a specification to enable the NVMe flash interface to run over networks such as Ethernet, Fibre Channel and Infiniband. The so-called NVMe over fabrics spec supports various schemes for direct memory access.

The upcoming PCI Express Gen 4 standard also is driving the move, in part because PCIe already forms the plumbing for NVMe.  The Gen 4 speeds will blow away older SAS and SATA interfaces on solid-state drives. Ultimately PCIe is expected to dominate SSDs and become relatively low cost.

There’s plenty of work to be done, noted Stefanie Woodbury, director of advanced architecture at Micron and design lead for the company’s 3D XPoint-based SSDs. Interoperability will be critical given three fabrics, multiple direct-memory schemes and various block, file and streaming storage semantics –as well as emerging memory types such as 3D XPoint, she said.

Micron's Woodbury showed a prototype 3D XPoint SSD. (Images: EE Times)

Micron's Woodbury showed a prototype 3D XPoint SSD. (Images: EE Times)

“I was at Seagate when we introduced the first Fibre Channel drives so this sounds familiar,” Woodbury said.

The trend is opening an opportunity for a whole new class of flash controller designs, said Tim Canepa, a chief controller architect at Seagate who previously worked at SandForce.

Engineers can’t create effective products by patching together SSD and a fabric controllers. Ground up designs are needed, Canepa said, noting the controller space has a healthy crop of several stealth startups – some of them attracted by the need for chips for emerging memory types such as the Intel/Micron 3D XPoint.

Other chip and system startups showed their wares at the event. Kalray demoed its processor with 288 custom VLIW cores running NVMe over Ethernet based on version 2.0 of the RoCE direct-memory access approach. Mellanox and Chelsio are among other chip makers hoping to offload such jobs from host processors.

At the systems level, Mangstor showed its dual-socket servers integrated with flash and Mellanox network cards. But the company claims its software for NVMe over fabrics, which was out ahead of the SNIA spec, is its secret sauce.

The competition is stiff. E8 Storage won an award at the show for its flash array which delivered a whopping 10 million I/O operations/second (IOPS) while supporting 100us reads and 50us writes over NVMe.

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