NetApp adding NVMe over TCP to ONTAP — iSCSI upgrade path

NetApp is adding fast NVMe-over-TCP access to ONTAP, providing an upgrade to accelerated storage access for its iSCSI-using FAS and AFF array customers and for iSCI users generally.

NVMe-over-TCP provides remote direct memory access for data across an Ethernet TCP link. The idea of using NVMe in this way, extending the PCIe bus across a network fabric, with NVMe-oF, was first developed with lossless Ethernet (RoCE), and then extended to Fibre Channel, which NetApp already supports. 

Eric Burgener, Research Vice President, Infrastructure Systems, Platforms and Technologies Group at IDC, provided a statement: “With faster-than-expected adoption of NVMe-based all-flash arrays in recent years, new technologies like NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) will continue to fuel the evolution of the enterprise storage industry. NVMe/TCP is expected to be a key technology to drive mainstream market adoption due to its ubiquity and ease of deployment. Because it is based on Ethernet, it doesn’t require new hardware investment. It is particularly attractive for hybrid-cloud deployments.”

NetApp is specifically announcing that the next major release of ONTAP, v9.10.x, will include NVMe/TCP support. Octavian Tanese, NetApp’s SVP for Hybrid Cloud Engineering, tells us there will be an easy upgrade path to NVMe/TCP in this coming release, which, we think, might arrive before the end of the year. 

NVMe/TCP is not quite as fast as NVMe over ROCE or FC but it is way faster than standard iSCSI or Fibre Channel access to SAN data, as a general latency table indicates:

  • iSCSI and Fibre Channel — around 1,000 to 1,500µs;
  • NVMe/TCP — about 200µs;
  • NVMe/FC — about 150µs;
  • NVMe/ROCE — 100–120µs.
NetApp NVMe/TCP graphic.

Because NVMe/TCP uses standard Ethernet, then the same cabling that supports iSCSI external storage access can support the radically faster NVMe/TCP access. By adding NVMe/TCP support to ONTAP, existing ONTAP features are available to NVMe/TCP users — data reduction, management, protection, storage efficiency and so forth.

NVMe/TCP will also be supported by ONTAP running in the public cloud, providing an NVMe namespace covering both the on-premises and public cloud environments.

Other supplier support

NVMe/TCP is supported by startups like Lightbits Labs and also by disk drive supplier Toshiba in its Kumoscale product sold through partners such as Quanta, Supermicro and Tyan.

Startup Infinidat supports NVMe/TCP access to its InfiniBox arrays. Another startup, Pavilion Data, supports NVMe/TCP as well as NVMe over RoCE. Pure Storage said it had NVMe/TCP support on its roadmap back in June last year but nothing has appeared yet. 

NetApp looks to be the first major incumbent storage supplier to support NVMe/TCP, ahead of Dell, HPE, Hitachi Vantara, IBM and Pure.