PMC Flashtec + Memblaze PBlaze 4 = NVM Express SSD Awesomeness!

Author: Stephen Bates (@stepbates)

In mid-May I headed to Beijing to attend Memblaze’s launch of their new Solid State Drives (SSDs) based on the PMC Flashtec™ controller. I was verStephen Batesy happy to make the trip because we have worked closely with Memblaze over the past 18 months as they transferred their SSDs from the FPGA-based PBlaze3 to the PMC Flashtec based PBlaze4. There has been a lot of interest within China around these Memblaze SSDs and NVM Express™ (NVMe™), and I wanted to go there and see for myself.

The Memblaze team have worked really hard to bring two form factors (HHHL and SFF-8639 2.5”) to market and to build data center/enterprise features into both. An example, of some of the features include:

  • Best-in-class random read performance, great for application acceleration;
  • Really low-latency access to your data, thanks to DRAM used for caching and meta data storage;
  • Data protection features, such as end-to-end data integrity and power-safe protection, to flush data to NAND in the event of sudden power loss; and
  • Efficient, high-performance host access to your data, thanks to compliance to the NVMe standard.

During my talk at the launch event, I dug a little deeper into the last point. Since my last trip to China about six months ago, the transition from SATA SSDs to NVMe SSDs seems to be accelerating. People seem to be getting the message that NVMe is designed, from the ground up, to work with non-volatile memory and, as such, is a much better protocol for SSDs than SATA.

Some images from the Memblaze PBLaze4 launch (from top L to R): Stephen presents the benefits of NVM Express, the audience enjoys hearing from PMC,, Toshiba and others, some press materials from the launch showcasing the PMC Flashtec controller.

One of the slides I use to show the advantage of NVMe over SATA is reproduced below. It shows how much data can be pulled off an NVMe SSD vs a SATA SSD per hardware thread. When using SSDs you want a protocol that is fast, high-bandwidth and efficient. Only NVMe offers all three and its driver has been written to be very light on the CPU, even when pulling/pushing lots of data to/from the SSD.

One of my slides from the Memblaze launch event showing how much more efficient NVM Express is than SATA when it comes to CPU utilization.

One of my slides from the Memblaze launch event showing how much more efficient NVM Express is than SATA when it comes to CPU utilization.

To some extent I think I was “preaching to the converted” at this event. While data centers in China still use a lot of SATA SSDs, most companies there are either starting to move to NVMe or plan to do so in the not so distant future. Hopefully the Memblaze PBlaze4 family of SSDs will see a lot of adoption in that region as this transition starts to ramp up!

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