Monday, 25 May 2020

Spinning up an NVMe over Fibre Channel Strategy using Cisco MDS 9000 Series Multilayer Switches

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Every so often there comes a time when we witness a major shift in the networking industry that fundamentally changes the landscape, including product portfolios and investment strategies. Storage and Storage Area Networks (SANs) are undergoing one such paradigm shift that opens up a huge opportunity for those looking to refresh their SAN investments and take advantage of the latest and greatest developments in this particular space. We can think of it as a “trifecta effect.”

Let’s see how the Cisco MDS SAN solution – using Cisco MDS 9000 Series Multilayer Switches helps meet the challenges posed by this “trifecta effect.” Through this series of blogs, we will cover various topics on Cisco’s innovation in storage networking technologies and how it addresses these challenges.

To start with, let’s first take a very common topic that is top of mind for every customer looking at Cisco MDS 9000 series switches:

◉ Do you support NVMe over Fibre Channel (NVMe/FC) or NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF)?

◉ Which Cisco MDS 9000 Multilayer Series Switches support NVMe?

◉ Do I need an extra license to get support for NVMe on my Cisco MDS SAN switches?

So, let’s discuss the latest and greatest innovations driving the SAN industry and try to paint a picture of how the SAN landscape will look five to seven years down the road, while focusing on asking the right questions prior to that critical investment. Following this, we will be posting additional blogs that will dig deeper into each of the technological advances, in order to understand the bigger and better picture of future storage networking technology.

Why now?


Modern enterprise applications are exerting tremendous pressure on your SAN infrastructure. To keep up with advances in storage technology, customers are looking to invest in higher performing storage and storage networking. Combining the economic viability of All Flash / NVMe arrays and the technological advances with NVMe over Fibre Channel, there has never been a more compelling opportunity to upgrade the SAN infrastructure to meet future demands.

But before we think about refreshing our SAN, we have to ask few questions ourselves:

◉ Does it support NVMe?

◉ Is it 64Gb FC ready?

◉ Do we get any sort of deep packet visibility, a.k.a. SAN analytics, for monitoring, diagnostics, and troubleshooting?

◉ How can I get my SAN ready to use Cisco MDS 9000 Series Multilayer Switches?

We will elaborate more on the above questions, one by one, in this series of blogs.

In this blog, let’s talk about NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC) support using Cisco MDS 9000 series switches.

Most of us probably know what NVMe is – the various deployments of NVMe (over FC, RoCE, TCP, etc.). Solid State Disks (SSDs) and NVMe have superseded rotating/spinning disks. NVMe also has opened up a superhighway to send traffic using multiple lanes, providing a very high throughput rate. This results in extremely high bandwidth consumption, along with burst of reads and writes.

Does Cisco’s MDS SAN solution provide support for NVMe/FC?


This is a very common and top-of-mind question from customers during conversations involving SAN. The good news on the Cisco MDS SAN solution is – yes, it supports NVMe.

◉ Transparent support – no additional hardware/commands needed

◉ Works with any current 16G/32G fabric switch or current Cisco MDS 9700 16G/32G modules using Cisco NX-OS 8.x release

◉ No additional license needed

◉ No additional features needed to enable identification of NVMe commands


Vendor certification


From an ecosystem support perspective, we have certified Broadcom/Emulex and Cavium/Qlogic HBAs, along with Cisco UCS® C-Series servers. We have also published Cisco Validated Design guides with the NVMe solution, listed at the end of this blog.

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We can run SCSI and NVMe flows together through the same hardware, through the same ISL (Inter Switch Link). Cisco MDS 9000 series switches will transparently allow successful registrations and logins with NVMe Name Servers as well as I/O exchanges between SCSI and NVMe initiators and targets, together.

This way, NVMe/FC, along with the Cisco MDS SAN solution, provides the best possible performance across the SAN, with seamless insertion of NVMe storage arrays in the existing or new ecosystem of MDS SAN switches.

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