Storage Futures With Intel Software From #SFD12


As a part of the recently concluded Storage Field Day 12 (#SFD12), we traveled to one of the Intel campuses in San Jose to listen to the Intel Storage software team about future of storage from an Intel perspective. This was a great session that was presented by Jonathan Stern (Intel Solutions Architect /  and Tony Luck (Principle Engineer) and this post is to summarise few things I’ve learnt during those sessions that I thought were quite interesting for everyone. (prior to this session we also had a session from SNIA that was talking about future of storage industry standards but I think that deserves a dedicated post so I won’t mention those here – stay tuned for a SNIA event specific post soon!)

First session from Intel was on the future of storage by Jonathan. It’s probably fair to say Jonathan was by far the most engaging presenter out of all the SFD12 presenters and he covered somewhat of a deep dive on the Intel plans for storage, specifically on the software side of things and the main focus was around the Intel Storage Performance Development Kit (SPDK) which Intel seem to think is going to be a key part of the future of storage efficiency enhancements.

The second session with Tony was about Intel Resource Director Technology (addresses shared resource contention that happens inside an Intel processor in processor cache) which, in all honesty was not something most of us storage or infrastructure guys need to know in detail. So my post below is more focused on Jonathan’s session only.

Future Of Storage

As far as Intel is concerned, there are 3 key areas when it comes to the future of storage that need to be looked at carefully.

  • Hyper-Scale Cloud
  • Hyper-Convergence
  • Non-Volatile memory

To put this in to some context, see the below revenue projections from Wikibon Server SAN research project 2015 comparing the revenue projections for

  1. Traditional Enterprise storage such as SAN, NAS, DAS (Read “EMC, Dell, NetApp, HPe”)
  2. Enterprise server SAN storage (Read “Software Defined Storage OR Hyper-Converged with commodity hardware “)
  3. Hyperscale server SAN (Read “Public cloud”)

It is a known fact within the storage industry that public cloud storage platforms underpinned by cheap, commodity hardware and intelligent software provide users with an easy to consume, easily available and most importantly non-CAPEX storage platform that most legacy storage vendors find hard to compete with. As such, the net new growth in the global storage revenue as a whole from around 2012  has been predominantly within the public cloud (Hyperscaler) space while the rest of the storage market (non-public cloud enterprise storage) as a whole has somewhat stagnated.

This somewhat stagnated market was traditionally dominated by a few storage stalwarts such as EMC, NetApp, Dell, HPe…etc. However the rise of the server based SAN solutions where commodity servers with local drives combined with intelligent software to make a virtual SAN / storage pool (SDS/HCI technologies) has made matters worse for these legacy storage vendors and such storage solutions are projected to eat further in to the traditional enterprise storage landscape within next 4 years. This is already evident by the recent popularity & growth of such SDS/HCI solutions such as VMware VSAN, Nutanix, Scality, HedVig while at the same time, traditional storage vendors announcing reducing storage revenue. So much so that even some of the legacy enterprise storage vendors like EMC & HPe have come up with their own SDS / HCI offerings (EMC Vipr, HPe StoreVirtual, annoucement around SolidFire based HCI solution…etc.) or partnered up with SDS/HCI vendors (EMC VxRail, VxRail…etc.) to hedge their bets against a loosing back drop of traditional enterprise storage.


If you study the forecast in to the future, around 2020-2022, it is estimated that the traditional enterprise storage market revenue & market share will be even further squeezed by even more rapid  growth of the server based SAN solutions such as SDS and HCI solutions. (Good luck to legacy storage folks)

An estimate from EMC suggest that by 2020, all primary storage for production applications would sit on flash based drives, which precisely co-inside with the timelines in the above forecast where the growth of Enterprise server SAN storage is set to accelerate between 2019-2022. According to Intel, one of the main reasons behind this forecasted increase of revenue (growth) on the enterprise server SAN solutions is estimated to be the developments of Non-Volatile Memory (NVMe) based technologies which makes it possible achieve very  low latency through direct attached (read “locally attach”) NVMe drives along with clever & efficient software that are designed to harness this low latency. In other words, drop of latency when it comes to drive access will make Enterprise server SAN solutions more appealing to customers who will look at Software Defined, Hyper-Converged storage solutions in favour of external, array based storage solutions in to the immediate future and legacy storage market will continue to shrink further and further.

I can relate to this prediction somewhat as I work for a channel partner of most of these legacy storage vendors and I too have seen first hand the drop of legacy storage revenue from our own customers which reasonably backs this theory.



With the increasing push for Hyper-Convergence with data locality, the latency becomes an important consideration. As such, Intel’s (& the rest of the storage industry’s) main focus going in to the future is primarily around reducing the latency penalty applicable during a storage IO cycle, as much as possible. The imminent release of this next gen storage media from Intel as a better alternative to NAND (which comes with inherent challenges such as tail latency issues which are difficult to get around) was mentioned without any specific details. I’m sure that was a reference to the Intel 3D XPoint drives (Only just this week announced officially by Intel and based on the published stats, the projected drive latencies are in the region of < 10μs (sequential IO) and < 200μs (random IO) which is super impressive compared to today’s ordinary NVMe SSD drives that are NAND based. This however presents a concern as the current storage software stack that process the IO through the CPU via costly context switching also need to be optimised in order to truly benefit from this massive drop in drive latency. In other words, the level of dependency on the CPU for IO processing need to be removed or minimised through clever software optimisation (CPU has long been the main IO bottleneck due to how MSI-X interrupts are handled by the CPU during IO operations for example). Without this, the software induced latency would be much higher than the drive media latency during an IO processing cycle which will contribute to an overall higher latency still. (My friend & fellow #SFD12 delegate Glenn Dekhayser described this in his blog as “the media we’re working with now has become so responsive and performant that the storage doesn’t want to wait for the CPU anymore!” which is very true).


Storage Performance Development Kit (SPDK)

Some companies such as Excelero are also addressing this CPU dependency of the IO processing software stack by using NVMe drives and clever software  to offload processing from CPU to NVMe drives through technologies such as RDDA (Refer to the post I did on how Excelero is getting around this CPU dependency by reprogramming the MSI-X interrupts to not go to the CPU). SPDK is Intel’s answer to this problem and where as Excelero’s RDDA architecture primarily avoid CPU dependency by bypassing CPU for IOs, Intel SPDK minimizes the impact on CPU & Memory bus cycles during IO processing by using the user-mode for storage applications rather than the kernel mode, thereby removing the need for costly context switching and the related interrupt handling overhead. According to, “The bedrock of the SPDK is a user space, polled mode, asynchronous, lockless NVMe driver that provides highly parallel access to an SSD from a user space application.”

With SPDK, Intel claims that you can reach up to around 3.6million IOPS per single Xeon CPU core before it ran out of PCI lane bandwidth which is pretty impressive. Below is a IO performance benchmark based on a simple test of CentOS Linux kernel IO performance (Running across 2 x Xeon E5-2965 2.10 GHz CPUs each with 18 cores + 1-8 x Intel P3700 NVMe SSD drives) Vs SPDK with a single dedicated 2.10 GHz core allocated out of the 2 x Xeon E5-2965  for IO. You can clearly see the significantly better IO performance with SPDK, which, despite having just a single core, due to the lack of context switching and the related overhead, is linearly scaling the IO throughput in line with the number of NVMe SSD drives.

(In addition to these testing, Jonathan also mentioned that they’ve done another test with Supermicro off the shelf HW and with SPDK & 2 dedicated cores for IO, they were able to get 5.6 million IOPS before running out of PCI bandwidth which was impressive)


SPDK Applications & My Thoughts

SPDK is an end-to-end reference storage architecture & a set of drivers (C libraries & executables) to be used by OEMs and ISV’s when integrating disk hardware. According to Intel’s SPDK introduction page, the goal of the SPDK is to highlight the outstanding efficiency and performance enabled by using Intel’s networking, processing and storage technologies together. SPDK is available freely as an open source product that is available to download through GitHub. It also provide NVMeF (NVMe Over Fabric) and iSCSI servers to be built using the SPDK architecture, on top of the user space drivers that are even capable of servicing disks over the network. Now this can potentially revolutionise how the storage industry build their next generation storage platforms.  Consider for example any SDS or even  a legacy SAN manufacturer using this architecture to optimise the CPU on their next generation All  Flash storage array? (Take NetApp All Flash FAS platform for example, they are known to have a ton of software based data management services available within OnTAP that are currently competing for CPU cycles with IO and often have to scale down data management tasks during heavy IO processing. With Intel DPDK architecture for example, OnTAP can free up more CPU cycles to be used by more data management services and even double up on various other additional services too without any impact on critical disk IO? I mean its all hypothetical of course as I’m just thinking out loud here. Of course it would require NetApp to run OnTAP on Intel CPUs and Intel NVMe drives…etc but it’s doable & makes sense right? I mean imagine the day where you can run “reallocate -p” during peak IO times without grinding the whole SAN to a halt? :-). I’m probably exaggerating its potential here but the point here though is that SDPK driven IO efficiencies can apply same to all storage array manufacturers (especially all flash arrays) where they can potentially start creating some super efficient, ultra low latency, NVMe drive based storage arrays and also include a ton of data management services that would have been previously too taxing on CPU (think inline de dupe, inline compression, inline encryption, everything inline…etc.) that’s on 24×7 by default, not just during off peak times due to zero impact on disk IO?

Another great place to apply SPDK is within virtualisation for VM IO efficiency. Using SPDK with QEMU as follows has resulted in some good IO performance to VM’s


I mean imagine for example, a VMware VSAN driver that was built using the Intel DPDK architecture running inside the user space using a dedicated CPU core that will perform all IO and what would be the possible IO performance? VMware currently performs IO virtualisation in kernel right now but imagine if SPDK was used and IO virtualisation for VSAN was changed to SW based, running inside the user-space, would it be worth the performance gain and reduced latency? (I did ask the question and Intel confirmed there are no joint engineering currently taking place on this front between 2 companies). What about other VSA based HCI solutions, especially take someone like Nutanix Acropolis where Nutanix can happily re-write the IO virtualisation to happen within user-space using SPDK for superior IO performance?

Intel & Alibaba cloud case study where the use of SPDK was benchmarked has given the below IOPS and latency improvements

NVMe over Fabric is also supported with SPDK and some use cases were discussed, specifically relating to virtualisation where VM’s tend of move between hosts and a unified NVMe-oF API that talk to local and remote NVMe drives being available now (some part of the SPDK stack becoming available in Q2 FY17)

Using the SPDK seems quite beneficial for existing NAND media based NVMe storage, but most importantly for newer generation non-NAND media to bring the total overall latency down. However that does mean changing the architecture significantly to process IO in user-mode as opposed to kernel-mode which I presume is how almost all storage systems, Software Defined or otherwise work and I am unsure whether changing them to be user-mode with SPDK is going to be a straight forward process. It would be good to see some joint engineering or other storage vendors evaluating the use of SPDK though to see if the said latency & IO improvements are realistic in complex storage solution systems.

I like the fact that Intel has made the SPDK OpenSource to encourage others to freely utilise (& contribute back to) the framework too but I guess what I’m not sure about is whether its tied to Intel NVMe drives & Intel processors.

If anyone wants to watch the recorded video of our session from # SFD12 the links are as follows

  1. Jonathan’s session on SPDK
  2. Tony’s session on RDT



#SFD12 #TechFieldDay @IntelStorage

Storage Field Day (#SFD12) – Vendor line up

Following on from my previous post about a quick intro to Storage Field Day (#SFD12) that I was invited to attend in San Jose this week as an independent thought leader, I wanted to get a quick post out on the list of vendors we are supposed to be seeing. If you are new to what Tech Field Day / Storage Field Day events are, you’ll also find an intro in my above post.

The event is starting tomorrow and I am currently waiting for my flight to SJC at LHR, and its fair to say I am really looking forward to attending the event. Part of that excitement is due to being given the chance to meet a bunch of other key independent thought leaders, community contributors, Technology evangelists from around the world as well as the chance to meet Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett) and the rest of the #TFD crew from Gestalt IT ( at the event. But most of that excitement for me is simply due to the awesome (did I say aaawwwesommmmmmeee?) list of vendors that we are supposed to be meeting with to discuss their technologies.

The full list & event agenda goes as follows

Wednesday the 8th

  • Watch the live streaming of the event @
  • 09:00 – MoSMB presentation
    • MoSMB is a fully compliant, light weight adaptation of SMB3 made available as proprietory offering by Ryussi technologies. In effect its a BMS3 server on Linux & Unix systems. They are not a technology I had come across before so really looking forward to getting to know more about them and their offerings and their partnership with Microsoft…etc.
  • 10:00 – StarWind Presents
    • Again, new technology to me personally, which appears to be a Hyper-Converged appliance that seem to unify commodity server disks and flash with multiple hypervisors. Hyper-Converged platforms are very much of interest to me and I know the industry leading offerings on this front such as VMware VSAN & Nutanix fairly well. So its good to get to know these guys too and understanding what are their Unique Selling Points / differentiators to the big boys.
  • 13:00 – Elastifile Presents
    • Elastic Loud File System from Elastafile is supposed to be able to provide application level distributed file / object system spanning private cloud and public cloud to provide a hybrid cloud data infrastructure. This one is again new to me so keen to understand more about what makes them different to other similar distributed object / storage solutions such as HedVig / Scality from my perspective. Expect my analysis blog post on this one after I’ve met up with them for my initial take!
  • 16:00 – Excelero Presents (hosted at Excelero office in the Silicon Valley)
    • These guys are a new vendor that is literally due to launch themselves on the same day as we speak to them. Effectively they don’t exists quite yet. So quite exciting to find out who they are what they’ve got to offer us in this increasingly growing, rapidly changing world of enterprise IT.
  • 19:00 – Dinner and Reception (Storage Cocktails?) with presenters and friends at Loft Bar and Bistro in San Jose
    • Good networking event with the presenters from the day for peer to peer networking and further questioning on what we’ve heard from them during the day.

Thursday the 9th of March

  • 08:00 (4pm UK time) – Nimble Storage Presents
    • Nimble are a SAN vendor that I am fairly familiar with and have known them for a fairly long time and I also have few friends that work at Nimble UK. To be fair, I was never a very big fan of Nimble personally as a hybrid SAN vendor as I was  more a NetApp, EMC, HPe 3Par kinda person for hybrid SAN offering which I’ve always thought offer the same if not better tech for roughly a similar price point, with the added benefit of being large established vendors. Perhaps I can use this session to understand where Nimble is heading now as an organisation and what differentiators / USP’s they may have compared to big boys and how they plan to stay relevant in an industry which is generally in decline as a whole.
  • 10:45 – NetApp Presents (At NetApp head office in Silicon Valley)
    • Now I know a lot about NetApp :-). NetApp was my main storage skill in the past (still is to a good level) and I have always been very close to most NetApp technologies, from both presales and deliver perspective and was also awarded as the NetApp partner System Engineer of the Year (2013) for UK & Ireland by NetApp. However since the introduction of cDOT properly to their portfolio, I’ve always felt like they’ve lost a little market traction a little. I’m very keen to listen to NetApp’s current messaging and understand where their heads are at, and how their new technology stack including SolidFire is going to be positioned against other larger vendors such as Dell EMC, HPe 3Par as well as all the disruption from Software Defined storage vendors.
  • 12:45 (20:45 UK time) – Lunch at NetApp with Dave Hitz
    • Dave Hitz  (@DaveHitz) who was the NetApp founder is a legend… Nuff said!
  • 14:00 – Datera Presents
    • Datera is a high performance elastic block storage vendor and is again quite new to me. So looking forward to understanding more about what they have to offer.
  • 19:30 – San Jose Sharks hockey game at SAP Center
    • Yes, its an evening watching a bit of Ice Hockey which, I’ve never done before. To be clear, Ice Hockey is not one of my favourite sports but happy to take part in the event :0).

Friday the 10th of March

  • 09:00 (17:00 UK time) – SNIA Presents (@Intel Head office)
    • The Storage Networking Industry Association is a non profit organisation made up of various technology vendor companies.
  • 10:30 (18:30 UK time) – Intel Presents (@Intel Head office)
    • I don’t think I need to explain / introduce Intel to anyone. If I must, they kinda make some processors :-). Looking forward to visiting Intel office in the valley.

All and all, its an exciting line up of vendors and some old and some new vendors which I’m looking forward to meeting.

Exciting stuff, cant wait…! Now off to board the flight. See you on the other side!



FlexPod: The Joint Wonder From NetApp & Cisco (often with VMware vSphere on Top)


During attending the NetApp Insight 2015 in Berlin this week, I was reminded of the monumental growth in the number of customers who has been deploying FlexPods as their preferred converged solutions platform, which now celebrates its 5th year in operation. So I thought I’d do a very short post on it to give you my personal take of it and highlight some key materials.

FlexPod has been gaining lots of market traction as the preferred converged solution platform of choice for many customers of over the last 4 years. This has been due to the solid hardware technologies that underpins the solution offering (Cisco UCS compute + Cisco Nexus unified networking + NetApp FAS range of Clustered ONTAP SAN). Often, customers deploy FlexPod solutions together with VMware vSphere or MS Hyper-V on top (other hypervisors are also supported) which together, provide a complete, ready to go live, private and hybrid cloud platform that has been pre-validated to run most if not all typical enterprise data center workloads. I have been a strong advocate of FlexPod (simply due its technical superiority as a converged platform) for many of my customers since it’s inception.

Given below are some of the interesting FlexPod validated designs from Cisco & NetApp for Application performance, Cloud and automation, all in one place.

There are over 100+ FlexPod validated designs available in addition to the above, and they can all be found below

There is a certified, pre-validated, detailed FlexPod design and deployment guide for almost every datacentre workload and based on my 1st hand experience, FlexPod with VMware vSphere has always been a very popular choice amongst most customers as things just work together beautifully. Given the joint vendor support available, sourcing support from a single vendor for all tech in the solution is easy too. I also think customers prefer FlexPod over other similar converged solutions, say VBLOCK for example, due to the non prescriptive nature of FlexPod whereby you can tailor make a FlexPod solution that meet your need (a FlexPod partner can do this for a customer) which keeps the costs down too.

There are many FlexPod certified partners available who can size, design, sell and implement a FlexPod solution for a customer and my employer Insight is also one of them (in fact we were amongst the first few partners to get FlexPod partnership in the UK). So if you have any questions around the potential use of a FlexPod system, feel free to get in touch directly with me (contact details on the About Me section of this site) or through the Flexpod section of the Insight Direct UK web site.