Enterprise Executive - 2017: Issue 2

Business Benefits Of Gen 6 Fibre Channel Technology For Z Systems

Steve Guendert 2017-04-12 02:29:43

Embracing the digital transformation and taking advantage of new technologies like flash and next-generation NVMe over Fabrics is a critical factor for success in any IT organization. But to reap the full benefit from these investments requires modernizing the storage network. Business leaders are embracing the digital transformation as a critical factor for success, and they expect IT to help them innovate faster, increase profitability and gain competitive advantage. But digital transformation is putting new pressures on IT organizations and pushing mission-critical IT storage environments to the limit. Faced with exponential data growth, hyperscale virtualization, evolving workloads and new demands for always-on business operations, the IT storage infrastructure must evolve to enable businesses to thrive in this new era. The legacy infrastructure was simply not designed to support these dynamics and the current pace of growth in business requirements. IT organizations need to modernize the data center and deploy a storage infrastructure that can deliver greater consistency, predictability and performance. Fortunately, innovation for the storage network is well underway. The newest and most exciting storage advancement today is flash-based storage. The unprecedented speed and rapidly increasing cost-effectiveness of flash-based products are dramatically accelerating data center transformation. Tomorrow, next-generation flash storage based on Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) over Fabrics will provide even greater value through significant performance gains. To take full advantage of flash-based storage, innovation for the storage network is also required. 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 an all-flash data center. It is hard to believe, but it is now over two years since the IBM z13 was announced and GA. It has been five years since the debut of Gen 5 (16 Gbps) Fibre Channel SAN technology. Many enterprise computing data centers are now implementing, or have already implemented flash-based storage arrays to replace and/or supplement their traditional spinning disk DASD technology. Technology marches on. Flash-based (AKA SSD) storage has always been attractive in comparison with spinning disk technology in terms of performance and availability. However, it has not been as attractive due to the acquisition cost. This cost differential has changed significantly in the past three to five years, and as the costs have come down, the performance gains have become more attractive. The last “turn of the crank” in terms of faster Fibre Channel speed was late 2011 with 16 Gbps (AKA Gen 5 Fibre Channel). At the time of its introduction, there were no storage devices, nor servers (z Systems or otherwise) that were 16 Gbps capable. The same is true today for 32 Gbps Gen 6 Fibre Channel. However, there is far more to these technologies than just faster speeds. Deployed in 90 percent of Fortune 1000 data centers, Fibre Channel (FC) is the de facto standard for mission-critical storage networking in the data center, and in the form of FICON, it is the standard for mainframe storage networking. Gen 6 Fibre Channel is the latest evolution in Storage Area Networks (SANs). Based on technology developed by the T11 technical committee that defines Fibre Channel interfaces, Gen 6 Fibre Channel is built to enhance the performance, reliability, scalability and security of SANs for flash-based storage technology, hyper-scale virtualization and new data center architectures. Gen 6 defines speeds of 32 gigabits per second (Gbps) with single lane, doubling Gen 5 1600 megabytes per second (MB/sec) to 3200 MB/ sec (32 Gbps) with Gen 6 Fibre Channel. The newly ratified 128 Gbps parallel Fibre Channel increases the data throughput of Gen 6 Fibre Channel links by 8X, from 1600 (MB/sec) in Gen 5 Fibre Channel to 12,800 MB/sec. Network Innovation for the Virtualized, All-Flash Data Center The benefits of faster networking technology are easy to understand. Data transfers are faster; fewer links are needed to accomplish the same task; fewer devices need to be managed and less power is consumed when Gen 6 Fibre Channel is used. Yet the question often arises of whether this higher level of infrastructure performance and throughput are essential to an organization’s network. The answer is a clear “yes.” Several server and storage technology advances are pushing up demand for greater storage area networking bandwidth, including application and storage capacity growth, high-density server virtualization, flash-based storage and NVMe over Fabrics. Gen 6 Fibre Channel enables enterprise data centers to unleash the full potential of these and other advanced technologies. Flashbased storage is driving exponential advances in storage, enabling faster block- and filebased storage performance for high-density virtualized workloads and traditional missioncritical applications. Thus, many enterprises are moving to an all-flash environment to eliminate performance issues and scalability challenges. This move, however, drives the need for higher I/O bandwidth performance and greater availability from the storage network. Next-generation NVMe over Fabrics will place even greater demands on the network. Higher throughput is important for keeping up with the many server and storage technology advancements, but the true value of Brocade Gen 6 Fibre Channel technology goes well beyond faster links. Higher reliability and innovative breakthrough technologies—such as integrated network sensors (I/O Insight) and Brocade Fabric Vision technology—provide powerful builtin monitoring, management and diagnostic tools that enable organizations to simplify management, increase operational stability and drive down operational costs. Maximizing Infrastructure and Solution Flexibility The previous generation of Gen 5 Fibre Channel is the proven network infrastructure for data center storage, delivering reliability, scalability and 16 Gbps performance that mainframe end users have been migrating their fabrics to. Gen 5 was first available in summer of 2011, and since that time, the clear majority of IBM z13 mainframe customers have deployed Gen 5 Fabrics to support their critical applications. Maximizing existing storage infrastructure investments while implementing next-wave storage technologies is top-of-mind for organizations. The need to move easily and without any interruptions or problems is required. With the launch of next-generation Gen 6 Fibre Channel, customers are looking at how different generations of products will work together in their fabrics. Brocade Gen 6 Directors enable organizations to both maximize their existing investments in Gen 5 storage infrastructure and to prepare their storage infrastructures for next wave of technologies, such as flash-based storage with NVMe over Fabrics. It mitigates the risk with backward-compatibility to existing infrastructure while protecting investments with a future-ready storage networking infrastructure that seamlessly integrates next-generation flash storage with current and future Fibre Channel networks. To realize the full benefits of flash, looking out over the next two to four years, many organizations will be transitioning their high-performance, latency-sensitive workloads to flash-based storage NVMe. NVMe is a new and innovative method of accessing storage media, and has emerged as the new storage connectivity platform that will drive massive performance gains. It is ideal for flash/SSD. Applications will see better random and sequential performance by reducing latency and enabling much more parallelism through an optimized PCIe interface purpose-built for solid-state storage. The momentum behind NVMe has been increasing since it was introduced in 2011. In fact, NVMe technology is expected to improve along two dimensions over the next couple of years: improvements in latency and the scaling up of the number of NVMe devices in large solutions. In 2014, the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) announced a new working group within the INCITS T11 committee (responsible for Fibre Channel standards) to align NVMe with Fibre Channel as part of the NVM Express over Fabrics initiative. This was an important evolution because it kept Fibre Channel at the forefront of storage innovation. FC-NVMe defines a common architecture that supports a range of storage networking fabrics for NVMe block storage protocol over a storage networking fabric. This includes enabling a front-side interface into storage systems, scaling out to large numbers of NVMe devices and extending the distance within a data center over which NVMe devices and NVMe subsystems can be accessed. The simplicity and efficiency of NVMe over Fibre Channel enables significant performance gains that take flash storage to new levels. NVMe over Fabrics technology enables end users to achieve faster application response times and harness the performance of hundreds of solid-state drives for better scalability across virtual data centers with flash. End users can seamlessly integrate Gen 6 Fibre Channel networks with next-generation NVMe over Fabrics flash storage. With the efficiency of NVMe over FC, combined with the high performance and low latency of Gen 6 Fibre Channel solutions, mainframe installations can accelerate Input/Output Operations per Second (IOPS) to deliver the performance, application response time and scalability needed for nextgeneration data centers. For investment protection, the Gen 6 Fibre Channel products offer three generations of backward-compatibility support for connectivity to 4, 8 and 16 Gbps FICON products, allowing seamless connectivity between the older generation of devices and storage networking equipment. This enables an older storage infrastructure to continue to serve an organization’s needs. An organization could also strategically plan to introduce Gen 6 FICON Directors into their existing fabrics when new devices are added to their fabrics, whether due to new requirements or just ongoing growth. Two such cases are discussed below. The first example is flash-based storage requirements. Flash technology is driving incredible advances in storage, dramatically reducing the historical Input/Output (I/O) performance gap between the server side (with multi-core processors and faster memory) and the storage side (with drastically reduced access times). Flash-based storage addresses both I/O and throughput bottlenecks, enabling faster block- and file-based storage performance for high-density virtualized workloads and traditional mission-critical applications. When required to introduce or add more flash to existing fabric, new flash-based storage arrays (all-flash arrays or flash-optimized storage arrays) can be paired with a Gen 6 FICON Director and added to existing Gen 5 Fabrics. Although flash works with the Gen 5 FICON Directors available today, several benchmarks have demonstrated that a faster storage network can improve overall performance of flash-based storage. A few such studies have highlighted that Gen 6 provides the powerful combination that can be used today to accelerate applications, even with existing 8 Gbps and 16 Gbps storage arrays improving both database query times and latency by 50 percent. If large capital investments have already been made in flash-based storage, the storage network must be able to support the needed bandwidth and latency. Gen 6 is engineered to extract the best performance out of flash and thus offers the best Return on Investment (ROI) for an organization. Improved VM Support As a second example, highly virtualized infrastructures such as large Linux on z Systems and/or LinuxONE implementations need high-performance storage networks. Evolving critical workloads and Tier 1 applications are being hosted on Virtual Machines (VMs). In addition to the increased use of server virtualization, VM densities (the number of VMs hosted on each physical server) are steadily increasing to 20, 40 or more VMs per physical server. The IBM z13 has up to 141 cores using the world’s fastest commercial processor, running at 5.0 GHz, to enable high performance coupled with massive scaling. The z13 and the IBM LinuxONE Emperor systems take scalability for VMs to a completely new level and can support up to 8,000 virtual servers. When connected to flash storage via FCP channels and Gen 6 SAN hardware, such as Brocade X6 Directors, the z13 and the LinuxONE Emperor support Node Port ID Virtualization (NPIV). This support of NPIV has increased significantly with z13 and LinuxONE Emperor, doubling to support 64 virtual images per FCP channel from the prior support of 32 virtual images per FCP channel. The Brocade Gen 6 X6 FICON Directors support up to 9000 NPIV devices per platform. The I/O subsystem of these IBM servers is built on Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) Gen 3 technology, which can have up to 40 PCIe Gen 3 fanouts and integrated coupling adapters per system at 16 GBps each (yes, 16 GB, not 16 Gbps). The z13 also supports 10 TB of available RAM (3x its predecessor). This massive amount of memory, as well as server and IO virtualization, allows VMs and applications to run at their full, unconstrained potential. Gen 6 Fibre Channel is ideal for these environments and can support the greater virtualization levels at sustained high levels of performance, enabling full utilization of the z13 and LinuxONE Emperor virtualization capabilities. The increased usage, criticality and density of VMs drive the demand for higher performance (bandwidth and I/O), as well as increased reliability and availability from the storage infrastructure. In highly virtualized environments, any congestion, poor I/O performance or failures in the storage network impact a larger number of applications. Gen 6 Fibre Channel adds support for standards for the VM Insight (VMID) feature that enables VM-level fabric services and provides deeper integration of virtualized infrastructure with a SAN storage fabric. When the need arises to add more virtualized servers to an existing fabric, new servers can be paired with a Gen 6 Director and then added to an existing Gen 5 Fabric. As is the case with flash-based storage, having a high-performance storage network to support the virtualized infrastructure is key. By thus pairing a highly virtualized infrastructure with Gen 6 switches, application performance improves, resulting in a consolidated infrastructure while protecting existing and future investments in the storage infrastructure. Future-Proofing With Gen 6 FICON Directors Further protecting future investments, the Brocade Gen 6 FICON Director family will support future Fibre Channel generations as a Gen 7-ready storage networking platform. The Brocade X6 backplane is designed with more links, to accommodate a doubling and quadrupling of bandwidth in the future. This will enable platform reusability for Gen 7 Fibre Channel, enabling organizations to maximize their Brocade investments and optimize the performance of their networking infrastructures. Conclusion The future is bright indeed for mainframe I/O connectivity; 32 Gbps Gen 6 Fibre Channel is highly synergistic with flash based storage, particularly All-Flash array (AFA) technology. Gen 6 Fibre Channel is “NVMe ready” and provides investment protection. At some point, IBM is likely to introduce further enhancements to FICON channels. Those enhancements are likely to be beneficial to flash-based storage implementations. Flashbased storage is the latest storage innovation for enterprise computing, and it provides remarkable performance benefits, with costs looking more attractive with every passing day. Gen 6 Fibre Channel and its technical benefits will help you realize the most “bang for the buck” with your investment in flash-based enterprise class storage. To take full advantage you’ll need the Gen 6 FICON connectivity. Steve Guendert, Ph.d., is z Systems technology director of Product Management for Brocade Communications, where he leads the mainframe-related business efforts. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and a member of the Computer Measurement Group (CMG). He is a former member of both the SHARE and CMG boards of directors. Email: stephen.guendert@brocade.com

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