For many people, data storage is as simple as keeping files on a hard drive, but many more storage technologies and solutions are available. And when it comes to a cloud server, choosing the right type of storage can make a big difference to your overall performance.
Today there are three main storage technologies – traditional hard drives (HDD), solid state drives (SSD), and NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Host Express). While they all get the job done for the everyday user quite well, there can be some big differences when it comes to enterprise use. These days, a typical HDD just doesn’t cut it for serious use anymore, and this is why the industry has evolved and moved on to SSD and NVMe solutions.
Clearing up the confusion
Often, people think that NVMe is an SSD alternative, whereas, in reality, they are completely different things. SSD is the physical device for storing data, and NVMe is the communication interface between the SSD and the rest of the system. So, really, we should be comparing SATA and NVMe.
Mistakenly, NVMe is viewed as a separate storage solution like SSD. This is because NVMe is not omnipresent like SATA is. While you can find both SSD and HDD drives with SATA, NVMe is basically in a separate category and only SSDs which specifically support it can bear its fruits.
Since NVMe is software, technically it doesn’t matter the type of connector used between the SSD and the system. With that said, usually NVMe is used by PCIe SSDs which are the M.2 size, aka stick drives instead of the typical 2.5-inch HDD form factor. You can find NMVe on other SSD form factors, but it’s most efficient with the smaller M.2 factor, hence it’s very popular among them.
So, what’s NVMe all about
If you want the best performance from your storage, then NVMe is your go-to technology. SATA SSDs are already quite fast, and for some of the top performing devices on the market, they can reach speeds of up to 550MBps for reading, and 520MBps for writing data. That’s great, but an NVMe M.2 simply smashes and surpasses this achievement. The latest PCIe 4 drivers can allow sustained reading speeds of up to 7300MBps and 5200MBps sustained write speed. Of course, that’s a theoretical speed which you’d need to have perfect conditions in order to achieve this. In reality, many of the applications can’t really take full advantage of the maximum potential of NVMe, but even with their limited abilities now, it’s still a big improvement slashing loading speeds for various software applications, games, platforms, etc.
A possible drawback of all that speed is that NVMe devices can generate a lot of heat, due to all that power consumption. While overheating is rare, it should be taken into account if you are planning on using NVMe drives over long periods of time with heavy workloads. Some NVMe drives even come with their own heatsinks to help minimize this risk.
That risk is mostly for smaller devices. When it comes to servers, NVMe devices shouldn’t have such issues as cooling is already sorted, especially in data centres. So, let’s move on to the next question.
What are NVMe’s main benefits?
We’ve already touched on some of the benefits, like the massive speed increase and the smaller size. The former is great for the users while the latter is perfect for the data center operators. It allows them to pack much more storage in a smaller footprint and offer better services for clients. Also, NVMe SSDs were more expensive than traditional SSD, but that quickly changed, and prices are levelling to a comparable level.
NVMe drives aren’t just overall faster than SATA though; they offer on average 3x better TBW than SATA SSDs and they feature built-in AES encryption for extra security of the data stored.
While NVMe drives can use a lot of power and generate heat, they are overall more power efficient than SATA SSDs. Thus, you can get a better battery life from your laptop for example, especially for normal use.
NVMe drives offer better data storage in the event of a power outage or even if being pulled from the system while it works. They use solid NAND chips and are far more reliable.
NVMe in the data center
So, if NVMe is so good overall it must be quite the hoot for data centers, right? Indeed, it is.
“The benefits of switching over to NVMe include having faster speeds and multiple simultaneous data streams that take full advantage of CPU and GPU utilisation… NVMe allows for data to be divided and streamlined so that data gets written at the same time. In addition, NVMe enables six times the bandwidth, a triple latency improvement, multicore support and 4K efficiency. Not only that, NVMe includes several commands for communicating with NVMe SSDs. This results in faster interfaces and optimized routines for writing data to the SSD,” writes popular memory manufacturer Kingston in its blog.
“An NVMe SSD that delivers good QoS ensures predictable I/O and latency delivery that an application can depend on to deliver desired performance for developers all the way downstream to the end-user interface,” the company also adds.
NVMe shines for serious data loads and/or for the times when you need low latency. So, if your business is in the worlds of healthcare, finance, telecoms, finance, logistics, etc, you can benefit from all of the extra speed and low latency NVMe offers. Online transactions, database processing and analytics can also benefit greatly from NVMe setups.
NVMe in the cloud
With so many benefits, it’s no surprise that hosting and cloud service providers are moving to this technology. Neterra.Cloud added NVMe storage to its cloud server offerings with all the company’s cloud servers now featuring NVMe, giving customers the best possible performance.
Combining a cloud server with NVMe storage means even small companies can get access to the latest technology and use it to the fullest. NVMe cloud services are gaining massive popularity among companies of all sizes – even Facebook and Microsoft are using NVMe SSDs in their architectures and setting up such cloud storage. Hyperscalers in general are loving NVMe. Microsoft Azure relies on “tens of millions NVMe devices,” says Lee Previtt, an IT expert on TechTarget.
As such, these companies are also working on the specifications for NVMe SSDs. “This builds on all the great work being done in NVMe and the NVMe protocol, and basically lists all that kind of common base firmware across all the series of requirements that we have to allow for a single source of truth in the firmware. And so, this makes it such that the SSDs can be built with one firmware, tested across multiple vendors, across multiple customers, through test houses and this sort of thing, so at the end of the day we end up with a very robust product for hyper scale data centers, which of course reduces costs,” he says.
“The NVMe technology standard is giving us some key benefits for cloud applications. In cloud, a lot of the applications are very highly QoS-driven and NVMe helps immensely in that with very low latencies. In addition, the Zoned Namespaces standard, which was recently ratified, is going to be enabling reduced write amplification and is going to reduce the cost also by removing the need for that much DRAM. So, it improves the efficiency and reduces the cost, which is really key for cloud deployments,” adds Kamaljit Singh during the Flash Memory Summit 2021.
NVMe is now part of Meta’s cloud storage strategy. “Large-scale companies such as ours often have cloud applications that rely on being able to host multiple applications or multiple customers on the same set of hardware – often referred to as multi-tenancy. Overall, NVMe technology will allow companies to both improve the efficiency of these services and easily scale their services, writes Ross Stenfort, Hardware System Engineer, Meta for NVMe’s official site. “The reorganization of the NVMe 2.0 specifications will help cloud users to innovate more quickly. This is extremely important with cloud applications because new use cases and increased workloads are constantly emerging. The new specifications restructure will allow NVMe technology to keep pace with those emerging use cases,” he adds.
As you can see NVMe is all the rage in the cloud world – and for good reason! It’s a great technology which is taking its rightful place as a leading protocol. Time is money and the more time you can save from waiting for things to load or to process, the better off you are. And NVMe gives you exactly that – saved time.