NVMe over Fabrics (Nonvolatile Memory Express over Fabrics)

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

Nonvolatile Memory Express (NVMe) over Fabrics is a technology specification designed to enable NVMe message-based commands to transfer data between a host computer and a target solid-state storage device or system over a network such as Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and InfiniBand.

NVM Express Inc., a non-profit organization comprised of more than 100 member technology companies, published version 1.0 of the NVMe over Fabrics specification on June 5, 2016. A work group within the same organization released version 1.0 of the NVMe specification on March 1, 2011.

The NVM Express organization estimated that 90% of the NVMe over Fabrics protocol is the same as the NVMe protocol, which is designed for local use over a computer's PCI Express (PCIe) bus.

One of the main distinctions between NVMe and NVMe over Fabrics is the mechanism for sending and receiving commands and responses. NVMe over Fabrics uses a message-based model to communicate between a host and target storage device. Local NVMe maps commands and responses to shared memory in the host over the PCIe interface protocol.

NVMe is an alternative to the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) standard for connecting and transferring data between a host and a peripheral target storage device or system. SCSI became a standard in 1986, when hard disk drives (HDDs) and tape were the primary storage media. NVMe is designed for use with faster media, such as solid-state drives (SSDs) and post-flash memory-based technologies.

NVMe provides a streamlined register interface and command set to reduce the I/O stack's CPU overhead in comparison to SCSI. Benefits of NVMe-based storage drives include lower latency, additional parallel requests, and higher performance.

NVMe over Fabrics enables the use of alternate transports to PCIe to extend the distance over which an NVMe host device and an NVMe storage drive or subsystem can connect. The original design goal for NVMe over Fabrics was to add no more than 10 microseconds of latency between an NVMe host and a remote NVMe target storage device connected over an appropriate networking fabric versus the latency of an NVMe storage device using a local server's PCIe bus.

NVMe over Fabrics

Fabric transports planned for NVMe include:

  • NVMe over Fabrics using remote direct memory access (RDMA), as defined by a technical subgroup of the NVM Express organization. Mappings available include RDMA over converged Ethernet (RoCE) and internet wide area RDMA protocol (iWARP) for Ethernet and InfiniBand.
  • NVMe over Fabrics using Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe), as developed by the T11 committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The T11 committee is responsible for the development of FC standards. Fibre Channel allows the mapping of other protocols on top of it, such as NVMe, SCSI, and IBM's proprietary Fibre Connection (FICON), to send data and commands between host and target storage devices.

Enterprise infrastructure pieces that need to support NVMe over Fabrics in order to achieve the benefits on an end-to-end basis may include the server operating system, server hypervisor, network adapter cards, storage operating system, and storage drives.

NVM Express Inc. established NVMe-oF as the official acronym for NVMe over Fabrics. Other acronyms in use include NVMe/F and NVMf.

This was last updated in August 2016

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What are the chief benefits of NVMe over Fabrics?


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