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Defining NVMe - Hands-on testing with the 1.6TB Intel P3700 SSD

By: Paul Alcorn | PCIe SSDs in IT/Datacenter | Posted: Jun 24, 2014 3:54 pm

Test Methodology


Testing NVMe performance against other storage protocols would be best if we could use DRAM memory, with its high performance and nanosecond-class latency, and then test each protocol head-to-head with the same device. In fact, during NVMe development this is how they conducted many of the tests. In the absence of a DRAM-class test device, we utilize the 1.6TB Intel P3700, the first NVMe SSD in our lab. Many of the advantages are focused around latency and lower CPU utilization, but the Intel P3700 also delivers tremendous performance and endurance. In following pages, we will detail exactly how NVMe provides these performance advantages.


Our full 1.6TB Intel P3700 NVMe PCIe Enterprise SSD Review delves further into the characteristics and features of the P3700. Today we are using the P3700 to conduct a few cursory tests that highlight some of the attractive features of the NVMe protocol. Bear in mind that there are NAND and controller limitations to all current-generation SSD products that prevent a full illustration of NVMe performance.


Readers should view our results as anecdotal evidence of performance improvements from NVMe; the architecture of the new Intel SSD delivers some of the performance enhancements as well. We are presenting 4k random read and write results, and the OLTP server workload, which consists of a 8K 66/33% read/write workload. This highlights a common use-case with a difficult mixed workload.


Our test platform is an Intel R2000GZ server with dual 10 core (20 logical) E5-2680 v2 processors, and 64 GB of DDR3 RAM. The other two SSDs in the test pool, the Micron P420m and Virident FlashMAX II, utilize proprietary software and drivers for connection via PCIe.


We also include results for the SATA 6Gb/s Intel DC S3700 and the 12Gb/s SAS HGST SSD800MH. We do not include their test results in standard performance tests; they do not compete in the same segment. These two 2.5" SSDs are used as reference points for our Latency v IOPS, CPU, and interrupt tests.


Our approach to storage testing targets long-term performance with a high level of granularity. Many testing methods record peak and average measurements during the test period. These average values give a basic understanding of performance, but fall short in providing the clearest view possible of I/O QoS (Quality of Service).


'Average' results do little to indicate performance variability experienced during actual deployment. The degree of variability is especially pertinent, as many applications can hang or lag as they wait for I/O requests to complete. This testing methodology illustrates performance variability, and includes average measurements, during the measurement window.


While under load, all storage solutions deliver variable levels of performance. While this fluctuation is normal, the degree of variability is what separates enterprise storage solutions from typical client-side hardware. Providing ongoing measurements from our workloads with one-second reporting intervals illustrates product differentiation in relation to I/O QOS. Scatter charts give readers a basic understanding of I/O latency distribution without directly observing numerous graphs.


Consistent latency is the goal of every storage solution, and measurements such as Maximum Latency only illuminate the single longest I/O received during testing. This can be misleading, as a single 'outlying I/O' can skew the view of an otherwise superb solution. Standard Deviation measurements consider latency distribution, but do not always effectively illustrate I/O distribution with enough granularity to provide a clear picture of system performance. We utilize high-granularity I/O latency charts to illuminate performance during our test runs.


Our testing regimen follows SNIA principles to ensure consistent, repeatable testing, and utilizes multiple threads to represent typical production environments.

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