The future for NVMe technology, and how UNH-IOL advances its progress

The importance of NVMe and the enterprise

Dave Woolf

Recent product announcements prove the NVMe (NVM Express) revolution is underway and is expected to continue with a wave of new products hitting the market in the coming months. Through its NVMe Testing Consortium, the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) gives subsystem vendors, silicon vendors, IP companies and enterprise storage companies an early, competitive advantage to test and prepare their NVMe products for market prior to the widespread introduction of NVMe SSDs.

We spoke to David Woolf, UNH-IOL NVMe Testing Consortium Lead, about the industry drivers behind this expected wave of products, specifically in the enterprise market, and how the lab responds to the industry's demands with enhancements to its NVMe testing program and upcoming NVMe plugfests.

TechRadar Pro: Could you describe the UNH-IOL's experience in testing NVMe technology?

David Woolf: The UNH-IOL is a non-profit test lab operating since 1988 and specialising in testing services for data, telecom and storage networking technologies. We provide broad-based flexible testing to services to cost-effectively speed go-to-market time for products.

While we have quite the history in network, routing protocols, and storage, NVMe is one of our more recent efforts. We began engagement with the NVM Express Organisation in mid-2012, when we partnered to create the NVMe Testing Consortium, and have been acting as the organisation's "testing arm" ever since.

We're continuing to raise the bar on NVMe compliance and interoperability, adding more test cases that mimic real-world use cases end customers expect to use these products in, such as hot plug, booting, and dual port redundancy.

TRP: What are the key benefits of membership in the UNH-IOL's NVMe Testing Consortium and how much does membership cost?

DW: Members of the UNH-IOL's NVMe Testing Consortium have direct access to state-of-the-art test equipment, which eliminates the expense required to set up and operate their own multivendor environments.

An annual membership fee of $19,000 (around £12,000, AU$21,800) includes participation in our NVMe Plugfests; access to our key conformance test tools, UNH-IOL INTERACT PC Edition and Teledyne-LeCroy Edition; access to the UNH-IOL NVMe Interoperability test bed; and support for UNH-IOL Administration of the open source tNVMe tool.

The services also include optional hot-plug and boot tests aimed at improving the specification and preparing for future functionality. These services will benefit any company developing an NVMe product: SSD companies, controller companies, OEMs, and IP companies. (Companies interested in joining the UNH-IOL Testing Consortium should head over here).

TRP: What is the ultimate goal of NVMe plugfests, and what do they prove?

DW: An NVMe plugfest is an opportunity to roll out new test requirements, and the earliest opportunity for companies aiming to add products to the NVMe Integrators List to test said products against the latest requirements. At the most recent NVMe plugfest, we saw a good mix of subsystem vendors, silicon vendors, IP companies and enterprise storage companies in attendance, and the plugfest ultimately led to the certification of eight devices.

TRP: What is the UNH-IOL NVMe Integrators List? How is it perceived from an NVMe/Storage OEM (original equipment manufacturer) point of view?

DW: The NVMe Integrators List is maintained by the UNH-IOL and serves as the industry's resource on products that have been proven to be interoperable and in conformance with the NVMe specification and industry-accepted test practices.

Products which have recently achieved placement on the Integrators List include: SSDs from Huawei, Intel and Samsung Semiconductor; an SSD controller from PMC Sierra; SSD IPs (intellectual property solutions) from Mobiveil; and systems from Dell.

For some OEMs, the Integrators List placement has become a prerequisite of validation. Most OEMs do their own internal validation – they view this as one of their value-adds and, in some cases, a competitive advantage. However, other OEMs now require placement on the UNH-IOL NVMe Integrators List as a stipulation in their procurement agreements.