Gen 6 performance unleashes the all-flash data centre

Business leaders are embracing digital transformation as a critical factor for success and they expect IT to help them innovate faster, increase profitability and gain a competitive advantage

Business leaders are embracing digital transformation as a critical factor for success and they expect IT to help them innovate faster, increase profitability and gain a competitive advantage. But this is putting new pressures on IT organisations and pushing mission critical storage environments to the limit.

Faced with exponential data growth, hyperscale virtualisation, evolving workloads and new demands for ‘always on’ business operations, the IT storage infrastructure must evolve to enable businesses to thrive. It needs to deliver greater consistency, predictability and performance. Legacy infrastructure was simply not designed to support these dynamics and the current pace of growth a business demands.

The most important storage advancement today is flash-based storage. The unprecedented speed and rapidly increasing cost-effectiveness of flash-based products are dramatically accelerating data centre transformation. The next big technology shift will be non-volatile memory express (NVMe) that delivers an even faster storage solution for all-flash arrays.

As companies redefine application performance with flash storage, they require networks that deliver ultra-low latency, higher capacity bandwidth and greater reliability. In fact, an aging network will bottleneck the performance of a flash installed data centre.

Network modernisation

To keep up, enterprises are turning to Gen 6 Fibre Channel to modernise their networks and optimise virtualised applications to take advantage of the full capabilities of a future-ready all-flash data centre.

Data centres can get the increased performance they need for today and tomorrow. Gen 6 doubles the throughput of Gen 5 from 16 Gbps to 32 Gbps, with an option to quadruple the performance to 128 Gbps.

Flash performance is all about high IOPs (input/output operations per second) and is adversely affected by high latency between CPU and storage. Latency is halved using Gen 6 compared to its Gen 5 predecessor (and 75 percent less than 8G switching). It’s the ideal underlay to get the most from your flash storage.

For those data centres deploying all-flash arrays, Gen 6 will help alleviate bottlenecks by providing the throughput and reduced latency needed for maximum performance.

The University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute, for example, turned to Gen 6 Fibre Channel storage networking in 2016 to provide the speed and performance it needs to eliminate data bottlenecks and accelerate research into preventing brain diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, motor neuron disease, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

Whole-brain imaging is critical to the Queensland Brain Institute’s research, but as advances in imaging and microscopy instruments continue to increase the resolutions and sampling rates of the data they generate, its storage infrastructure has new and unpredictable demands put upon it every day.

With data already growing at several petabytes per year without any pattern, it’s very difficult for the Institute to predict data growth going forward in a dynamic research computing environment. This puts a premium on storage network scalability – a requirement that Gen 6 Fibre Channel is more than capable of meeting.

Network innovation

It’s easy to understand the most obvious benefits of upgrading networking technology are to increase the speed of data transfers and decrease the number of links and devices that are required to accomplish network tasks. Yet, the question often arises of whether this higher level of infrastructure performance and throughput are essential to an organisation’s network. The answer is a clear “yes.”

New server and storage technology advancements like flash-based storage are driving up storage network bandwidth demand well beyond current capabilities. In addition, requirements for higher-density server virtualisation, new latency-sensitive applications, mixed/dynamic workloads and overall application growth all are placing unprecedented demands on the network.

Lab tests done by Demartek in the US on a data warehousing application workload, shows that even when using an all-flash array with 8 Gbps target ports, substantial improvements in application performance can be achieved by upgrading the network to 32 Gbps with Gen 6 Fibre Channel — without requiring any changes to the target storage system. Completion time was a full 71 percent less with Gen 6 Fibre channel compared to a legacy 8 Gbps network, enabling faster decision making and offering substantial business value.

While the breakthrough application performance and throughput delivered by Gen 6 Fibre Channel is mandatory to meet these performance requirements and fully leverage these new flash storage capabilities, it’s also crucial to address requirements for greater availability and predictability from the storage network.

To ensure total investment protection in Fibre Channel networks, Gen 6 supports complete and total backward compatibility to 16 Gbps and 8 Gbps networks. It automatically configures to the fastest supported speed between any two network points and requires zero user intervention.

Forward Error Correction (FEC) is a new feature available with Gen 6 technology that improves the reliability of Fibre Channel links through the recovery from bit errors that occur in high speed networks. FEC helps minimise or avoid data stream errors that can lead to application performance degradation or outages.

As more and more data centre administrators look at adding Flash storage and NVMe into their environments, they’re going to want to make sure that the technology they deploy will provide not only the performance, but also the scalability and the flexibility to meet mission-critical application requirements.

Fibre Channel is a strong fit for these scenarios and the reason why the newest Gen 6 technology is ramping so quickly. Data centre modernisation starts with Gen 6 Fibre Channel.

Phillip Coates is a systems engineering manager for Brocade in Australia and New Zealand. He has architected and installed solutions covering WAN connectivity, data centre and campus solutions, carrier based connectivity, various forms of network security, as well as fault diagnosis and analysis.

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