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World’s Fastest Storage Server Has Arrived

2017/06/12

Interviewed with Magic Pao, Director of Advantech Intelligent System Group

Nowadays in restaurants, the first action for diners when their meals are served is not to pick up their knife and fork but to take and upload pictures of their food. When at the gym, the songs that men and women listen too while weight training or running on the treadmill are typically not downloaded in advance; instead, they are obtained from online streaming music platforms with real-time listener selections. The popularity of various types of intelligent devices and the rapid expansion of cloud computing applications has already transformed traditional data storage modes. Numerous access intensive apps have overwhelmed traditional computer storage technology, leading to the gradual formation of a brand new storage concept.

Only High IOPS Can Meet System Requirements

The storage needs of IT computer room systems are commonly driven by existing data traffic through puts. Generally, enterprises categorize data into the following 3 “temperature” groups according to access frequency and demand response time: cold data, warm data, and hot data.

As the category name suggests, cold data is data with the lowest access frequency, followed by warm data and then hot data, which has the highest access frequency. Hot data involves high input/output operations per second (IOPS) and often presents the biggest challenge when constructing corporate IT systems. Architects must purchase high-performance storage devices to prevent system delays during high-frequency access periods. To handle such demand, current enterprise grade IT systems require high-intensity storage devices and Advantech’s ASR-3100 is one of the best.

Advantech introduced ASR-3100 as “the world’s fastest IOPS compact server”, which was their original intention when developing the product specifications. With ASR-3100, Advantech has reached a new milestone in the field of server storage.

When designing “the world’s fastest IOPS compact server”, the first challenge the R&D team faced was that the hard disk needed to support the latest NVMe interface. Currently, storage ports have three mainstream standards; specifi cally, SAS, SATA, and NVMe. SAS and SATA are quite mature standards, only NVMe is a new technology. The largest difference between NVMe and SAS and SATA standards is the operating mode. When data is received from the PCIe channel, a controller is required to convert the data into SAS or SATA format, whereas the NVMe standard directly transmits data to the hard disk for access. Because NVMe does not require a controller, the data access latency is signifi cantly less than that of SAS and SATA, and is not limited by the controller performance. Compared to SAS, which is faster than SATA, NVMe offers at least 10 times faster speed.

NVMe Speed Has Changed Everything

Advantech’s high-speed ASR-3100 storage server permits a new range of applications. In the past, when limited to low IOPS, system architects had to stack multiple hard drives and scatter high level access across various hard drives. With NVMe’s high access speed, ASR-3100 only needs one-tenth of the hard drives required by an SAS port for HDD performance. Therefore, the extended performance with NVM far exceeds that of a hard disk with an SAS or SATA port. For example, in a 1U space, the installation of 16 ASR-3100 ports is equivalent to 160 SAS ports. Systems with this access performance and space ratio are well beyond the capability of previous servers. Although the NVMe port gives ASR-3100 its high access speed, allowing a larger number of hard drives to be installed in the same space, it also causes mechanical design problems, such as the need to install 16 hard drives in a 1U space. Considering the potential of hot swap capabilities, Advantech designed ASR-3100 with eight drives at the front of the machine and eight drives at the back, accessible via a unique lifting tray. However, because the power cord, network cable, and other connectors located at the back of the machine are likely to obstruct the withdrawing of rear hard drives, the R&D team specially designed a “cable arm” at the rear of the machine. When the cabinet is opened and pulled forward, the cable arm ensures that the cables at the back move forward together. This represents progress compared to previous methods, where the system had to be turned off before opening the cabinet to prevent the cables from detaching. Safety and reliability were the second and third design aims. Because the chassis is lifted manually, to prevent internal components from colliding, the back part that rises upward stops first. When the operation is complete and the raised part is reset, the system closes slowly to avoid vibration, which may affect the reliability of internal components. Advantech has applied for a patent for this unique design. The high access speed of NVMe necessitates a processor with equivalent performance. Advantech equipped ASR-3100 with two CPUs that are responsible for a row of eight NVMe hard drives each. Although this approach seems simple, the wiring is complex.

The LAN length will differ because of the differing locations, resulting in different data access times for each hard disk, which thereby affects overall performance. However, with a number of adjustments, the R&D team was able to balance the data access operations of both rows of hard drives to achieve a superior design. Another notable feature of ASR-3100 is its flexible design. Because of diversified market demands for networks, a single interface standard can no longer meet all design requirements. Consequently, Advantech designed ASR-3100 with two expansion slots to provide system designers with sufficient application flexibility according to their needs.