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Users get sneak peek at Pure, Cisco NVMe storage fabric

Pure Storage and Cisco Systems showcase NVM Express over Fabrics storage based on FlashArray//X all-flash and Cisco next-gen NVMe fabric protocol at Accelerate conference.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pure Storage and Cisco Systems this week demonstrated an all-flash Nonvolatile Memory Express over Fabrics device the vendors are building together.

The two vendors showed off the system at the Pure Accelerate user conference, although it will not be available until at least 2018. Pure and Cisco are in the midst of interoperability testing.

The demonstration integrated Pure Storage FlashArray block storage and Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers. Cisco virtual interface cards (VICs) integrated directly on FlashBlade provides an NVMe storage fabric.

"We believe this is the first broad demonstration of an end-to-end NVMe storage array [that extends] all the way from the host down the flash chips. This is how storage will be built in another year or two," said Matt Kixmoeller, the vice president of marketing and products at Pure Storage in Mountain View, Calif.

The next-generation Cisco VIC supports remote direct access memory for converged Ethernet running a standard Linux distribution and integrated NVMe flash system drivers to support FlashArray data reduction, snapshots and replication.

Roland Dreier, the Pure Storage engineer behind the project, said NVMe over Fabrics uses the same command set and queueing model of a standard Fibre Channel or iSCSI network.

This is how storage will be built in another year or two.
Matt Kixmoellervice president of marketing and products, Pure Storage

"NVMe brings parallelism at the fabric layers," Dreier said during the product demo.

NVMe is gaining interest from enterprises in conjunction with applications becoming more parallel and servers gaining more cores. Up to now, keeping those cores fed required users to deploy solid-state drives in each server, which can lead to stranded capacity and challenges with accessing backups and snapshots.

The University of California, Davis, integrated Pure Storage FlashArray approximately four years ago and shifted its NetApp FAS system to secondary storage. Danh Duong, the UC Davis lead storage and backup administrator, said he is interested in learning more.

"The big thing with NVMe is you're getting rid of SCSI and going to a completely different protocol," Duong said. "SCSI is one instruction set at a time with a queue depth of 32. With NVMe, you have up to 64 K instruction sets and a queue of 64 K. It's many orders of magnitude larger."

IoT data growth driving NVMe interest

Henry Baltazar, a research director for storage at 451 Research in San Francisco, said Pure wants to aim the NVMe storage product at enterprises grappling with soaring internet of things data collection.

"Even with its distance latency, Pure is claiming that NVMe storage still has less latency and overhead than PCIe, which has to [search] the entire stack. They're saying that NVMe can make up for it due to the optimized fabric," Baltazar said.

Once available, Kixmoeller said Pure initially will target cloud services providers with rack-scale compute and storage.

Pure and Cisco launched a FlashStack converged infrastructure in 2015 combining Pure Storage arrays with Cisco UCS and switching. Cisco has similar partnerships with most large storage vendors, but in an interview with SearchStorage published this week, Pure CEO Scott Dietzen said his company is building a deeper relationship with the networking giant. Dietzen said Pure can take advantage of fractures in Cisco's relationship with storage leader EMC caused by the 2016 Dell-EMC merger.

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