NVMe over FC (Nonvolatile Memory Express over Fibre Channel)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Looking at NVMe storage technologies today and tomorrow
Contributor(s): Carol Sliwa

Nonvolatile Memory Express over Fibre Channel (NVMe over FC) is a technology specification designed to enable NVMe-based message commands to transfer data and status information between a host computer and a target storage subsystem over a Fibre Channel network fabric.

Fibre Channel (FC) is a fabric transport option for NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF), a specification developed by NVM Express Inc., a non-profit organization with more than 100 member technology companies. Additional NVMe transport options include remote direct memory access (RDMA) over Ethernet and InfiniBand. NVM Express Inc. published the 1.0 version of NVMe-oF on June 5, 2016.

The T11 committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) defined a frame format and mapping protocol to apply NVMe-oF to Fibre Channel. The T11 committee, which develops FC standards, refers to the NVMe over FC specification as Fibre Channel-NVMe (FC-NVMe).

NVMe Transport Options
An NVMe transport is an abstract protocol layer designed to provide reliable NVMe command and data delivery.

The FC protocol allows other protocols -- such as NVMe, Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) and IBM’s proprietary Fibre Connection (FICON) – to be mapped on top of it, enabling the transfer of data and commands between a host computer and a peripheral target storage device or system.

NVMe Express Inc. developed NVMe for fast media, which can include solid-state drives (SSDs) and additional memory-based technologies. In contrast to SCSI and FICON, NVMe offers a streamlined register interface and command set, and it reduces the I/O stack's CPU overhead, lowers latency and improves performance.

A major distinction between NVMe and NVMe-oF is the mechanism for sending and receiving commands. NVMe maps commands and responses to shared memory in the host computer via the PCI Express (PCIe) interface protocol. NVMe-oF uses a message-based model to send requests and responses between a host and a target storage device over a network fabric.

NVMe over Fabrics facilitates the use of alternative transports to PCIe to expand the distance over which an NVMe host and an NVMe storage subsystem can communicate. The initial design goal for NVMe-oF was to add no more than 10 microseconds of latency between the NVMe host and NVMe storage target, connected over a suitable network fabric, in comparison to the latency of an NVMe storage device using a local host's PCIe bus.

FC-NVMe; NVMe over FC protocol layers
The Nonvolatile Memory Express over Fibre Channel (NVMe over FC) draft specification defines the FC-NVMe protocol layer. The NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) specification defines the NVMe-oF protocol layer. The NVMe specification defines the NVMe Host Software and NVM Subsystem(s) protocol layer.

Infrastructure components that must support NVMe over FC to enable the potential benefits include the storage operating system (OS) and network adapter cards.

This was last updated in October 2016

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