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Lightbits Labs launches TCP-based NVMe-over-fabrics storage

The NVM Express consortium finalized the specs for NVMe-over-TCP fabrics in November. Lightbits Labs' launch features software-defined storage, an appliance and an accelerator card.

Lightbits Labs capped more than three years of product development with introductory offerings that turn the mature Transmission Control Protocol into a switched fabric for shared NVMe flash storage.

The startup launched three products for NVMe over fabrics: LightOS disaggregated storage software, the LightBox NVMe all-flash array and an optional LightField accelerator card to offload data services. Enterprises can deploy Lightbits to power fast NVMe block storage across a standard LAN, without adding special adapters or client-side software.

NVMe over TCP extends the high-performance and low-latency characteristics of NVMe flash across storage nodes over a standard Ethernet network.

The NVM Express consortium ratified NVMe/TCP as a binding transport layer in November 2018. The standard evolved from a code base originally submitted to NVM Express by Lightbits' engineering team. NVM Express has also ratified Fiber Channel, remote direct memory access and PCIe transports over NVMe. NVMe over TCP is the only ratified NVMe transport that uses standard Ethernet networking.

TCP diversifies NVMe fabrics options

NVMe over fabrics breaks the boundary limiting an SSD to a single dedicated server. Companies can replace SAS and SATA SSDs with NVMe SSDs and recognize immediate performance benefits, although the ultimate goal of NVMe over fabrics is to narrow the latency-inducing distance between processing and storage.

The Lightbits platform separates compute and storage for independent scaling. It shares NVMe SSD capacity across racks of servers. The vendor said it delivers the performance of direct-attached storage as composable architecture.

"Your compute node is not limited to the storage inside the box," said Kam Eshghi, a vice president of strategy and business development at Lightbits Labs. "The goal is to give applications more flexibility and better utilize your resources. You can get NVMe as a service from any storage server and in whatever size volume you need it. You don't have stranded capacity."

LightOS: Software-defined storage with flash management

Lightbits Labs isn't the first startup to roll out NVMe-over-TCP support. Last year, Excelero added TCP support for NVMe fabrics in the latest iteration of its NVMesh, which customers can license as software-defined storage or through OEM appliances. The difference is Excelero customers may need to update client software to support Linux or Windows OS upgrades.

The Lightbits Labs LightOS is target-side software with the vendor's global flash translation layer to manage efficiency and endurance of the SSDs. Lightbits Labs' software handles flash management, including compression with thin provisioning, data placement, erasure coding and quality of service. The services can be turned off to avoid contention.

Eshghi said LightOS is available in several configurations. A data center may elect to license LightOS software on its preferred server hardware or purchase integrated LightBox appliances from Lightbits. Specific pricing wasn't disclosed, but Eshghi said LightOS will be licensed according to capacity and the number of nodes.

Eric Burgener, a research vice president of storage at IDC, said he expects TCP to spur use of NVMe over fabrics.

"The TCP implementation will start to open up much broader use of NVMe over fabrics," Burgener said "When customers wanted extremely high storage performance and low latency, they typically bought a PCIe in a server and let the application talk only to that server. As workloads increase, you start to outgrow how much storage you can get from a single server."

Until the NVMe/TCP spec was approved, Burgener said, interest in TCP for NVMe fabrics was mostly an academic exercise for Lightbits Labs and other vendors.

"Lightbits has had customer pilots and beta [underway] since last year, but the product wasn't production-quality. What they are now releasing is generally available product that is ready for production use out of the box," Burgener said.

Lightbits Labs is based in Israel, with U.S. offices in New York and San Jose, Calif. It has $54 million in funding, including strategic investments from Cisco, Dell EMC and Micron.

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