Briefing Update, Data Center

Executive Briefing: E8 Storage Pushes NVMe to the Edge

There is a certain mindset in the industry (often promoted by vendors) that the faster the storage, the better. This is often more hype than reality: it’s quite possible that the best storage method for your cold data is, for example, good ol’ tape. It’s cheap, it’s reliable and it’s time-tested.

But there are some situations in which faster storage is better, in which speed — via the lowest latency possible — is the key requirement. Those environments simply can’t use tried-and-true methods like HDDs or even regular SSDs. They require the fastest storage currently available, which comes in the form of Non-Volatile Memory express, also known as NVMe storage.

And even NVMe, as good as it is, can still fall short of optimal performance. For super-intensive workloads like real-time analytics, financial and trading applications, business intelligence and transactional processing, traditional NVMe might not be enough. What’s needed is something even more.

Even faster than the fastest? Well, yes, because wringing great performance out of NVMe storage is an art in itself.

So when vendor E8 Storage says its NVMe appliances are record-breaking, it’s worth a chat to find out the reality behind the claims. What I found was eye-opening.

First, there was serious hard evidence to back E8’s performance claims. In a well-regarded benchmark test, E8 set a performance record for its appliance, using 24 2.5-inch Western Digital NVMe SSDs in combination with the IBM Spectrum Scale 5.0 cluster file system. That included an overall response time (ORT) of less than a millisecond (specifically, 0.69 msec.)

That means it’s a great fit for the above-mentioned workloads. In fact, E8 Storage says that their top two use cases are transactional processing and real-time analytics. One of their customers, for instance, provides flight check-in for airlines. The passenger’s ticket is read, they’re confirmed, and the acknowledgement sent back to the gate agent. It’s an end-to-end process that has to be nearly instantaneous, and be low-latency enough to handle up to “millions of transactions per minute” across all airports, E8 noted.

Another use case is credit card transactions that, again, have to be handled in moments rather than minutes or even seconds. And keep in mind that the processing has to happen just as well during the crush of holiday shopping, for example. As consumers, we’ve come to expect these transactions to happen smoothly and transparently, without standing around waiting for the system to shuffle the data around.

In fact, when those systems don’t work as smoothly, and we stand around twiddling our thumbs, it makes us annoyed with the system (and maybe the employees standing there), and perhaps less likely to use that particular store or airline in the future. We have choices, and will use them. This means there’s a real-world bottom-line effect of these underlying storage systems. We take the infrastructure for granted now – or we should be able to; but anyone who’s waited in a checkout line knows that’s not always the case.

E8’s systems make that infrastructure fast, low latency and reliable; their independently-verified lab results show an impressive 10 million IOPS and 40 GB/s throughput, with eight times less latency.

E8 says that’s because it was architected from the ground up for NVMe. It offloads most of the data path operations onto the E8 agents installed on the host servers. This means that the controller is no longer the I/O bottleneck it once was (and still often is, even with all-flash storage.) All the data typically runs through the controllers in legacy systems. Those controllers have to be stuffed with CPU and memory to get high performance and low latency.

Not so with E8, which was built to take advantage of the multi-parallelism that SSD (including NVMe) enables. Commands can now go down their own data path in parallel, chopping latency and increasing speed. That’s a really high-level way of saying that E8 squeezes maximum performance out of their appliances.

And recently, E8 expanded this performance and low latency paradigm to non-proprietary storage (that meets its standards.) The new E8 Storage Software is available from pre-qualified vendors, and allows customers to buy from their own suppliers (as long as they’re on the approved list.) It’s the first time E8 has done this, and is welcome news to companies that have a pressing need for cutting-edge NVMe storage for their workloads.

This means E8 is now in the software-defined storage (SDS) space, too. It’s a competitive area, for sure, but there is room – as there always is – for innovation to happen. And given the numbers we’ve seen, E8 Storage appears to be a breakthrough. ActualTech Media will be following up with them, and recommend you check them out, if you have an environment that needs the fastest possible, lowest-latency storage out there.