Marvell is a leader in the development of storage, communications and consumer silicon solutions, basically they provide vendors with key components so they can deliver complete solutions to end users. Recently Marvell announced the 88N9145 native PCIe SSD controller which promises to slash the cost required to achieve 1 million IOPS on a PCIe card.
This is a module that vendors will install onto a PCIe board and combine it with NAND Flash, a small amount of DRAM for wear leveling tables and a PCIe switch to connect multiple 88N9145 modules. The PCIe switch will then provide a single channel of native PCIe performance to the host CPU.
What makes the controller unique is its modularity. It provides incremental scalability as more of the 9145 controllers are added. This gives a vendor the ability to provide customers an entry-level, mid range and high-end PCIe set of solutions which are based on the same controller technology. This should simplify development costs for the vendor and represent a lower price point for the eventual customer.
For example an entry-level card could use an inexpensive two port PCIe switch and two of the 9145 controllers to provide a small form factor PCIe card for use in a variety of space conscious environments like 1U servers. At the same time a high-end card could be developed with a multiple port switch connecting to many 9145 controllers.
From a performance perspective Marvell claims that the 9145 can generate 93K random read IOPS and 70k random write IOPS. The Marvell driver includes a raid zero like functionality that aggregates the multiple controller modules and their assigned NAND into a single addressable unit. This leads to a scalable architecture that with 16 9145 controllers mounted on a single PCIe SSD board should be able to deliver over 1 million random write IOPS. All of Marvell’s performance claims are based on 4K blocks making these valid numbers for consideration since they are representative of most workloads.
In addition to performance, the controller also supports 128 bit/256 bit AES on the fly encryption, which is something that many vendors have not yet dealt with. Encryption of solid-state devices is going to be an increasingly important issue as SSD popularity rise in the enterprise.
Finally Marvell achieves the scalable performance while maintaining efficiency. Each controller uses less than a WATT of power and are sized such that eight modules can fit on a small form factor PCIe card and 16 on a full-size card.
What does this mean the vendors?
For the SSD vendor this means that they can now be competitive with some of the more vertically integrated solid-state providers and it may mean that some abandon the development effort involved in creating their own controllers via FPGAs. It also means that they can bring the market a wide range of PCIe SSDs that are power and space efficient yet provide performance that meets the demands of almost any data center.
What does this mean for users?
For users this is different than Marvell’s DragonFly products that we discussed in a previous article. The 9145 controller is a component that users will get from other SSD vendors as part of a complete SSD solution. It also means that when those products are delivered the cost to add high-performance storage to their existing architectures has come down in price significantly.