Delivering high density NVMe based storage systems

Delivering high density NVMe based storage systems


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Delivering high density NVMe based storage systems

Shane Kavanagh – Member Technical Staff, ESI Architecture, Dell EMC

For years now the tech industry has been talking about the “data tsunami” – the ongoing trend for increasing amounts of data that need to be stored and analyzed. This is primarily driven by the explosion in active connected devices and the desire to use the data they collect to provide better services (i.e., more efficient homes, smart cities, self-driving vehicles). While this trend has been going on for quite some time, its end is nowhere in sight.


man in lab

In response to this pressing market need, the industry is delivering ever-increasing storage density to match the growth in generated data. But more than just density is at play. As data centers apply these solutions at scale, cost becomes a limiting concern, and as ever, performance is always a consideration. So, the challenge is really to provide greater density at lower cost and acceptable performance.

The density challenge

The storage density challenge for the industry is to try to deliver one petabyte of storage into a 1U form factor. There are multiple ways that this can be achieved. One approach is to use 10 x 128 TB U.2 SSD devices. But at today’s prices that would be cost prohibitive. You could consider using a custom form factor in your solution, but this makes it difficult to leverage cost and supply benefits of the high volume offerings in the market and requires changes to platform designs.


In response to the cost challenge of deploying large SSDs, an innovative approach that the Dell EMC Extreme Scale Infrastructure group is employing with a select group of customers is to use smaller, relatively low capacity, lower cost SSDs in standard form factors (i.e., M.2 devices) integrated in proven platforms (i.e., PowerEdge C4140). This allows us to provide highly dense NVMe based systems at costs approaching today’s SATA SSD cost points – and this approach has the added benefit of a more granular failure domain.

The solution we are exploring with these customers delivers M.2 devices on a PCIe card that conforms to a standard GPU adapter size, making it easy to plug into existing platforms that accommodate GPUs. (See example illustration.)

Wrigley card

One of the keys to success with this approach is the inclusion of a high performance PCIe switch that fans out the PCIe lanes among the M.2 devices.


At today’s M.2 capacities this results in almost 100 TB per card, but note the capacities for M.2 devices are about to double in the next year – allowing the card to approach almost 200 TB of capacity. Once this higher capacity is reached, placing four of these cards in a PowerEdge C4140 provides in excess of half a petabyte, and as M.2 capacities grow, this design readily scales beyond one petabyte in 1U.

Keep in mind, while this dense storage capacity is being delivered at SATA level costs, it is also significantly faster. Because we are delivering SSDs using the NVMe interface, the system will have performance levels well in excess of those available with SATA in an equivalent 1U system.

When delivered with a bandwidth optimized system, like a PowerEdge C4140, and paired with two 100 Gb NICs, this solution can deliver 200 Gb of bandwidth in a 1U form factor. So, in just 5U that quickly adds up to 1Tb of throughput and millions of IOPs – along with more than 1.5 petabytes of storage!  (Readily scaling to 3 PB when the M.2 capacities double!)

                                                         4 high density NAND modules in a C4140

Data Driven Workloads

This high density all-flash solution is ideal for handling the sustained ingest of massive amounts of data, for example, as a front end in an edge computing architecture. It can work in conjunction with a Machine Learning backend, or any number of IoT functions that require large amounts of data to feed real-time analytics, like self-driving vehicles, satellite imagery, and weather telemetry.


Impressive storage density, extremely high bandwidth, and easy, technology-paced scalability - Dell EMC can offer large scale customers innovative, all flash solutions for their toughest data challenges. Inquiries about Extreme Scale Infrastructure solutions can be made at



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  • It is good.  need talk to customer AI guys to understand if it can be a backend of machine learning.

  • What chipset is the C4140 based on? How many PCIe lanes are available on that chipset? How many PCIe lanes does each M.2 NVMe SSD receive from the PCIe switch?

  • With no cooling most NVMe SSDs will overheat and throttle, how is the heat problem of these densely packed NAND chips solved? Is Dell approving only M.2 NVMe SSDs that come with heatspreaders or how are the SSDs approved?