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Recent market studies from IDC and 451 Research shows how critical the core HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure) software is to the fast-growing HCI market, and VMware vSAN is leading the market. Michael Haag has posted a nice blog detailing this. You can read it here. To keep pace with this fast-growing journey, we need enablement of new technologies and platforms for our customers to efficiently and effectively consume HCI for their applications and workloads. One of these platforms is the Intel Xeon Scalable platform.

As we all know, Intel announced their Intel Xeon Scalable platform aka “Intel Skylake/Purley” last summer. You can read about it here. One of the key features in this release was “Intel VMD” for NVMe drives.

We certified Supermicro BigTwin, the first VMD-enabled, all NVMe vSAN ReadyNode as it became available. You can find the listing here. You can search on VMD in the VMware Compatibility Guide to find others VMD-enabled ReadyNode.

What is Intel VMD?

Intel VMD or Volume Management Device is a new technology to improve NVMe SSD management. Intel VMD is HW logic inside Intel Xeon Scalable processors that helps manage & aggregate NVMe SSDs. Instead of each NVMe device being discoverable on the PCIe bus, VMD instantiates one or more IO controller-like devices and puts the NVMe devices behind them in much the same way SAS IO controllers did.

To take advantage of this functionality you will need to ensure the server supports VMD, and has it enabled in the BIOS and of course you will need the VMware certified NVMe driver.

Intel Volume Management Device (VMD)

The VMD-enabled driver currently supports Intel NVMe SSDs. You can learn more about VMD here.

What is Disk Serviceability?

Before we discuss why do we need VMD, I would like to quickly touch upon serviceability aspect in data center. Disk serviceability is a critical operational aspect in HCI environments as it brings in compute, storage, networking and management onto a single, integrated layer of software that can run on industry-standard hardware. Data center administrators require LED management (activity / status) on a drive to identify or locate when a drive fails or needs service. Once the drive requiring service has been identified, hot-plug functionality allow for safe, clean drive removal and re-insertion.

Why Intel VMD for vSAN?

Whilst NVMe is great technology, by default it lacks any industry standard disk serviceability as of today. This critical operational feature of data centers, namely drive hot-plug support and drive LED management, is important for new drive technology adoption in vSAN environment. Intel’s VMD is eco-system wide solution available on Intel Xeon Scalable platforms address this serviceability requirement.

  1. LED Management:

VMD incorporated NVMe drives to have several modes for the drive’s amber LED such as on, off and flash to identify the NVMe drive. This allows device location for serviceability.

  1. Hot-Plug:

VMD also enables hot swap replacement without shutting down the system.  The VMD device can intercept PCIe events due to hot plug and allow for safe, clean drive removal and re-insertion. With Intel VMD, servicing drives can be done online, minimizing service interruptions.

Supermicro ReadyNode with Intel VMD

We now have all NVMe vSAN ReadyNode supported on Supermicro BigTwin platform with Intel VMD technology supporting Intel® Optane SSDs for caching and Intel® 3D NAND SSDs for capacity tier.

Supermicro vSAN ReadyNode with VMD Support

With VMD, following serviceability benefits are achieved in vSAN environment:

  1. Supermicro BigTwin servers with VMD technology have robust hot-plug support and status LED management which means there are no system crashes or hangs when ejecting or inserting NVMe devices.
  2. Supermicro BigTwin servers can be configured with VMD enabled right out of the factory so users can have a seamless experience.

Conclusion

Intel VMD enables isolating fault domains for NVMe device surprise hot-plug and error handling. It also provides consistent framework for managing LEDs and simplify PCIe storage software stacks. This will help vSAN customers adopt next generation platforms and storage devices (NVMe) while enjoying the same enterprise level support they are used to.

With Supermicro BigTwin all NVMe vSAN ReadyNode, customers not only would be able to run their workload faster but it would help address the operational challenges related to disk serviceability using Intel VMD technology.

For any questions on vSAN hardware, please reach out to vSAN Hardware PM vsan-hcl@vmware.com.

To learn more about vSAN, visit VMware vSAN