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Fibre Channel and NVMe: Trusted Meets Fast
Greg Scherer|Thursday, December 10, 2015
CTO and Vice President

Technological advances in the enterprise data center involving Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe)-based Solid-State Storage (SSS) devices are allowing many folks to change their perception of Fibre Channel. I use the word “perception” because I am well aware of the view of some that casts a shadow on the future of Fibre Channel. But I have to say that from my vantage point, Fibre Channel still has a lot of life left in it. I'm reminded of the Mark Twain attribution that "the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!" Fibre Channel is still the most trusted and reliable protocol for storage traffic. It is still evolving and innovating, as evidenced by the recent advent of NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe).

Earlier this week at the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure and Operations Management Conference, a QLogic and Brocade team demonstrated the industry’s first FC-NVMe solution in conjunction with Brocade Gen 5 (16Gb) Fibre Channel fabric. The demo showcased live NVMe transport over Fibre Channel using QLogic Enhanced Gen 5 (16Gb) Fibre Channel Adapters and a Brocade Gen 5 (16Gb) switch, connecting an Intel PCIe SSD DC P3700 Series to a white-box Grantley-based server.

It was exciting to showcase this marriage as a proof of concept (POC) at the Gartner conference because it fanned the flame of Fibre Channel’s relevance and created new conversations around the requirements to optimize flash-based storage.

Fibre Channel and NVMe: Trusted Meets Fast

It was less than a handful of years ago when we saw the birth of the first native "all-FLASH" solid state drives (SSDs) interface in the NVMe 1.0 specification. It was then just 18 months ago when the NVM consortium set out to adapt this "local" PCI Express (PCIe)-based interface to a fabric-capable transport able to deliver its efficiency to Storage Area Networks (SANs). Fibre Channel, which plays a vital role in today’s SAN-based interconnect, naturally followed suit. This is when "Trusted" met "Fast."

Fibre Channel has been the dominant protocol used to connect servers with remote shared storage comprising of hard disk drives (HDDs) and flash-based SSDs. It is trusted by 90 percent of Fortune 1000 data centers as the de facto standard for storage networking. [1]

NVMe is a standard interface for PCIe based SSD drives, and was designed from the ground up for use with flash. Flash is fast. NVMe can make it even faster. This is a huge boost for the low latency requirements of memory-intensive workloads.

FC-NVMe extends the simplicity and efficiency of NVMe by transferring NVMe commands and structures end-to-end, requiring no translations. Fibre Channel's purpose-built, dedicated storage transport along with its parallelism and battle-hardened reliability make it an ideal transport for NVMe.

If you'd like to dive in deeper, we've published a new QLogic white paper that details the evolution of NVMe, explains the differences between NVMe and SCSI, outlines the key attributes of the NVMe interface, and illustrates the native transport capability of NVMe with full backward compatibility.

In summary, let me highlight a few key FC-NVMe benefits here:

  • Efficiency of NVMe is extended into the fabric
  • Reliability, availability and serviceability of Fibre Channel is ensured for next generation storage applications
  • Lossless and secure fabric is available for high speed NVMe access
  • Existing Fibre Channel investments can be leveraged when deploying FC-NVMe
  • Deterministic performance, inherent low latency and high IOPS of Fibre Channel aligns with NVMe requirements and roadmap
  • Based on open standards

It was obvious to all of us who viewed the FC-NVMe demo at the Gartner conference that this is a game-changing storage standard for PCIe-connected drives and the future of flash/SSD storage. It targets the performance, application response time, and scalability needed for next generation data centers, while leveraging existing Fibre Channel infrastructures. It's why we’re jumping in early to pioneer the effort, taking a leadership role in terms of FC-NVMe standards, and working with our partners to get this solution into your fabric soon, which, we believe, will yield significant operational benefits to data centers and IT managers.

[1] Fibre Channel Industry Association:

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