Test and validate the latest storage options in WWT’s compute, network and virtualization proof of concept testing platform, the Flash Lab.

If you’re anything like me, you remember 2016 as the “year of all flash.” During that year, we had countless customers coming to our testing lab to see how moving from spinning media could help them on the journey to modernize their infrastructure.

The reality is that flash is storage of the future. Legacy systems are stretching to their limits, and it’s time that organizations reevaluate their storage options. Fortunately, these options continue to multiply.

As solid state media continues to advance, there are more options as it relates to NAND. Now that flash is well established in the modern data center, OEMs are starting to adopt different types of NAND to help drive down cost.

The latest technology is more dense, allowing more content to be stored at four bits per cell. Quad-level cell (QLC) is more cost effective than its predecessors: single-level cell (SLC), multi-level cell (MLC) and triple-level cell (TLC). That cost savings does come with considerations, as QLC has lower endurance and read/write cycles. As OEMs mature they will need to become more efficient in the way they access the NAND to store the bits.

Investing in Flash

At WWT, we make it our business to keep up with the changing pace of technology. That’s why several years ago, we created our Flash Lab: a foundation for storage, compute and virtualization proofs of concept (POC) located in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC).

Essentially, the Flash Lab is a multi-vendor environment that provides a fully integrated network, storage and compute platform for POCs, performance and resiliency storage testing, benchmarking, virtualization and VDI testing, workshops, demos and upgrades/downgrades.

We take a solution-based, holistic approach to every technical engagement that leverages cutting-edge technology based on business objectives and existing infrastructure. And when it comes to the storage industry, NVMe and NVMe-oF are game-changing.

NVMe protocol is the modern standard for network-connected NAND storage that advanced beyond traditional SCSI storage protocols. These advanced protocols will introduce exponentially higher, more parallel access to media than ever before.

As NVMe is more widely adopted from the host operating system and physical connection layer to the storage solutions supporting the infrastructure, we expect the following benefits:

  • Decreased CPU utilization on the host;
  • Higher throughput to the storage subsystem;
  • Significant reduction in latency for the application IO;
  • More efficient use of resources overall in the data center.

With NVMe and NVMe-oF continuing to mature, WWT invested in the Flash Lab to support complex customer testing requirements and help achieve these benefits.

For a more in-depth look at NVMe, read a recent article from WWT storage experts: Trust the NVMe Hype.

The ATC Advantage

While the benefits of technology like NVMe can be easily understood, and it can be relatively easy to feature test these solutions, performance and resiliency testing is much more difficult to accomplish. Most of our customers don’t have the ability, time or resources to evaluate next generation storage productsat scale in their own dedicated lab environments.

This is especially true as new systems are deployed to remove performance bottlenecks, increase capacity and support new IT projects. In addition, they don’t always know how certain workloads will be serviced by the infrastructure they deploy.

Customers use the Flash Lab’s storage testing foundation to solve for various business and IT challenges, including:

  • Performance. Improve application performance to drive increased productivity and reduced application support costs.
  • Integration. See how new storage protocols differ from legacy systems using modern infrastructure from multiple OEMs.
  • Storage costs. Control storage costs by eliminating redundant data and fully using the capacity of storage environments.
  • Facilities costs. Reduce facility costs by employing technologies that lower energy and floor space consumption and management overhead.

Our engineers and technology expertise in the ATC offer organizations a way to test storage, compute and network solutions from multiple OEMs – all integrated in a working environment.  The result is outcome-focused solutions, fueled by our expertise in infrastructure modernization, multicloud and enterprise architecture.

The ATC helps organizations accelerate business decision-making support processes and generate information faster. With WWT’s testing tools and talented engineering teams, customers can evaluate technology in a matter of weeks and eliminate months of wasted time and resources.

How the Labs Work

The labs include 15 server nodes purpose-built with isolated compute and memory to provide sufficient I/O for massive stress testing of the latest flash storage platforms. In order to verify features and functionality, evaluate performance and validate scalability, the Flash Lab test environment can be configured according to several customer defined use cases: virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), server virtualization and database/analytics.

Meet the WWT Flash Lab: Your One-stop Storage Testing Ground

The current lab has more than 15 different types of OEM all-flash arrays, using both blade (Cisco UCS M5/M4 and Dell R740 XD) and rackmount systems to drive workloads. Some examples of the latest technology implemented into the lab include:

NetApp A800 and Big Data / AI Lab

  • Full end-to-end NVMe array
  • SCM available in “Flash Cache” tier (RO)

Dell EMC PowerMax 2000 Dual Engine

  • Back-end NVMe today
  • SCM and front-end NVMe-oF
  • FC-NVMe coming 2019

Pure Storage FlashArray //X70R2 and //X90R2

  • Backend NVMe array
  • Full end-to-end NVMe today with Ethernet
  • FC-NVMe and SCM roadmap in the next year

HPE 3PAR 9450 and Nimble

  • Intel Optane NVMe caching
  • SCM

Our current blades and rackmounts have Intel processor sets ranging from Sandy Bridge to Cascade Lake. We have a variety of methodologies and testing resources, but our primary testing tool for performance is Vdbench with a Grafana front-end for showing latency, IOPS and other compute/storage performance metrics.

Upgrading the Lab with the Latest Technology

As I said before, we like to keep up with the constant changes being made in technology. To provide our customers access to the latest and most innovative solutions on the market, we are continually making upgrades to our lab environment.

We recently started making the transition to the next generation of the WWT Flash Lab. The labs will now include the next generation of compute (SkyLake w. UCS M5 Compute) and the next generation of Ethernet fabrics (25/40/100 Gbps), along with improved POC capabilities around NVMe-oF, RoCE and a 3rd data center expansion.

In addition, a recent upgrade to MDS 9706 and Cisco 9364 spine-leaf architecture future-proofs the lab. Our goal is to have the ability to showcase advancements in NVMe-oF and how this will impact performance and latency for a customer’s most critical business application. As these technologies grow and become more mature, this fabric upgrade will allow us to accurately showcase technology via POCs, workshops, demos and performance testing.

Other upgrade specifics include the latest generation of UCS M5 blades dedicated to benchmarking and POCs, 2 UCS Chassis dedicated to performance testing, 3 UCS chassis dedicated to POC requests and the new generation of fabric interconnects with the ability to uplink to our new core switches at 400GB. These give us the ability to run performance and benchmarking tests per our customers’ requests.

Take Advantage of the Flash Lab

Let WWT help you determine the best flash storage solution for your organization’s needs. WWT experts will be happy to guide you through the different vendor options so you can make the best decision for your environment.

Ready to start exploring? Access the Flash Lab by reaching out to your account manager or connecting with us online.

Author’s note: Many thanks to Chris Braun and Brent Collins for their contributions to this article.

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  1. Chris Smith says:

    Great article to help customers understand technology and strategize storage for their evvironments!