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Broadcom, Mellanox Target NVMe-oF

August 28, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

Early hype is giving way to real products for NVMe Over Fabrics (NVMe-oF). At this month’s Flash Memory Summit, Broadcom and Mellanox announced storage-controller cards for flash arrays that support the RoCE flavor of NVMe-oF. These cards employ previously announced SoCs designed for smart NICs and storage targets: Broadcom’s Stingray and Mellanox’s BlueField, respectively. Compared with traditional enterprise storage systems, they eliminate separate host processors—typically one or two Intel Xeons.

The common idea behind these controller cards is to convert a “just a bunch of flash” (JBOF) into a fabric-attached BOF (FBOF), connecting the array with a storage-network fabric. Typical data-center JBOFs integrate a dozen or more NVMe SSDs and connect them to a host-facing PCIe port using a PCIe switch chip. Adding the storage controller turns the JBOF into an FBOF with one or more 100G Ethernet ports.

Broadcom’s PS1100R adapter integrates a Stingray SoC, DRAM, and a single 100GbE port. It acts as the PCIe root complex through an edge connector with 16 Gen3 lanes. Mellanox’s BF1600 adapter includes a BlueField SoC, DIMM slots, and a pair of network ports that handle 100GbE as well as 100Gbps (EDR) InfiniBand. Both SoCs offer multiple Arm Cortex-A72 CPUs. The BF1600 uniquely provides PCIe Gen4 x16 or dual Gen3 x16 interfaces using an edge connector in a second slot.

Both controller cards combine host-CPU and network-interface (NIC) functions on a single card, reducing system cost and complexity. They enable many possible FBOF configurations ranging from small arrays that omit a PCIe switch chip to high-availability enterprise systems with redundant controllers and switch chips. 

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