I was invited to attend a session at Tech Field Day Extra recently as part of VMworld 2017. In my case, the session was being put on by Kingston, the storage and memory folks. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that Kingston has been in the industry for years. 30 years, in fact! There are not too many tech companies that can hold that claim. Over that time, they have managed to remain a private company, and have grown to have distribution in 125 countries. Not to mention that they have expanded to many different market segments – just take a look at the image above. No small feat!
Kingston is likely well-known to most readers as they have numerous product lines that go across many different realms. There is a gaming division for memory products, a consumer division for SSDs, and even a NVMe division (Kingston Digital) aimed at enterprises. This last division is where we spent most of the time.
After we touched on what NVMe is (essentially a driver for the OS to understand flash media) we started digging into the details of its newest offerings and its use cases. In particular, we looked at the DCP1000 and DCU1000 storage. The difference between the two is the form factor: DCP1000 is delivered via PCIe whereas the DCU1000 uses the newer U.2 format. These U.2 drives come in a drive bay-compatible housing, with four drives packed into each one.
So why the two formats? PCIe for storage is quickly getting to the “legacy” point in its life. Sure it’s fast, but it isn’t the newest or greatest anymore. The PCIe solution is great for those older servers that may not have a U.2 form factor available. The down side with this form factor include no hot-swap capabilities, it tends to be more expensive, and it is hard to scale. How many PCIe slots do your servers have? That’s not to say that you should dismiss the DCP1000 – the inner guts of it are still quite impressive.
IT’S WHAT IS ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS
The two offerings are available in sizes of up to 4TB, but some of the “secret sauce” for their performance comes from two techniques. First up, each card/drive has four physical storage drives in there. With this, you can do something like a RAID 0 to present the 4TB volume. You can also use something like software RAID if it fits the use case. A side effect of this approach is density: if you have a 24-bay system, you can cram 96 drives into there.
From there, PCIe switching is able to present the drive to the OS and allow it to make writes to all four drives. Although the switching adds a bit of overhead and deters performance slightly, in the grand scheme of things it is almost unnoticeable. Your CPU would be the bottleneck before the PCIe switching ever was.
One of the more common concerns that enterprise admins have with flash is their life expectancy. Flash wears out over time, plain and simple. Most vendors will try to compensate for this by adding extra capacity to the unit. Once a cell shows signs of wear, a new cell replaces the old one.
With that in mind, Kingston over-provisions %28 of the drive to help ensure endurance and performance. Further to this, the drive’s endurance has a rating of one full write per day. Although you can find drives with much higher ratings, you generally see quite the uptick in price at that point. An interesting stat from the conversation is that about %65 of all SATA SSDs deployed into servers have the requirement of one drive write per day. Based on sheer volume, I can see how selling a drive to that segment makes sense.
As much as everyone likes things to be fast, there isn’t always a need. Currently, the cost of these drives is somewhere around the $.85 to $.90 / GB range. Not really that “expensive” given the performance. Could you use this in your gaming rig? Sure, but chances are it’ll be overkill. One card is capable of yielding about one million IOPS …. The storage geek in me thinks back to not that long ago, when that sort of performance would require a full rack of disks.
Video rendering and other large processing tasks seem to be the commonly identified use-cases. Along with that, read-caching systems would be a good fit, especially considering the one write per day endurance rating. Although I did not get a chance to see it, Kingston had a demo running at their booth showing the real-time rendering of video in 8K.
I suppose that these would also offer phenomenal performance for cat pictures as well ..
You can catch all of Kingston’s presentations on the Tech Field Day site.
Disclaimer: I was invited to participate in Tech Field Day Extra at VMworld 2017. Travel, accommodations, and most other costs were covered by my employer. Gestalt IT did provide lunch, which was a very yummy pasta and some lightly seasoned garlic bread (?). And coffee … Kingston did hand out one 64GB flash drive to each delegate. I was not requested to write the above, but rather it was written on my own accord.