Samsung, Western Digital Unite Around Zoned Storage

Article By : Gary Hilson

Collaborations between Samsung and Western Digital are part of a broader initiative to drive broad adoption of D2PF tech.

Two solid–state storage heavyweights, Samsung Electronics Co. and Western Digital, are joining forces to unify standards around several storage technologies, beginning with zoned storage solutions.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Samsung and Western Digital will see the companies align their efforts to create an ecosystem for zoned storage solutions as part of a broader collaboration to standardize and drive broad adoption of next–generation data placement, processing, and fabrics (D2PF) storage technologies.

Cheolmin Park

“Zoned storage is expected to fundamentally change the way that applications can utilize the capabilities of storage devices,” Cheolmin Park, vice president of Samsung’s memory product planning team, told EE Times. “It will also unlock a new level of performance that was previously impossible at such low cost.”

He said Samsung is receiving a lot of interest from a wide variety of customers in zone storage, and that OEM partners of both Samsung and Western Digital are evaluating and integrating the technology. Vendors have had different implementations of specifications, however, such as the zoned namespaces (ZNS) specification in solid-state drives (SSD)s due to lack of a standard storage device model.

Park said the MOU will allow the two companies to fill the standardization and device specification gaps that are fueling fragmentation and draw attention to emerging technologies, which depart from standard deployment methodologies. Standardization also gives end–users confidence that these emerging technologies will have support from multiple device vendors and a vertically integrated hardware and software ecosystem.

“The collaboration is intended to ensure a more consistent experience between vendors while preventing fragmentation that can occur with the introduction of new technologies.”

The MOU won’t create a new standards organization. Rather, Samsung and Western Digital are encouraging companies in the system/application stack to join their initiatives within the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and/or the Linux Foundation. They founded the SNIA Zoned Storage Technical Work Group, and the work group is already defining and specifying common use cases for zoned storage devices, as well as host/device architecture and programming models, Park said.

The companies are also in the process of contributing the necessary software libraries, kernel enhancements, and tools to open–source communities and bringing them into the joint Linux Foundation project to further drive alignment and best practices between industry partners.

The first initiative by the partners centers around zoned storage devices, including ZNS SSDs and shingled magnetic recording (SMR) hard drives. The ZNS interface is a standard introduced by non–volatile memory express (NVMe). It divides an NVMe namespace into zones, which are required to be sequentially written and enables hyper–scale organizations, all-flash array vendors, and large storage system vendors to take advantage of storage devices optimized for sequential write workloads. As a zoned–block interface, ZNS aligns SSDs with the host model already being used by SMR hard disk drives (HDDs), which employ zoned block commands and zoned ATA commands.

Zoned storage process (Source: Samsung) (Click image to enlarge)

Western Digital has been employing SMR in HDDs for many years now, said Wim De Wispelaere, vice president of strategic initiatives at Western Digital. It increases storage density and overall per–drive storage capacity. While conventional HDDs record data using perpendicular magnetic recording to write non–overlapping magnetic tracks parallel to each other, SMR writes new tracks that overlap part of the previously written magnetic track — this is what allows for higher track density.

In the meantime, De Wispelaere said, there has been some good uptake of ZNS on the flash side. But it’s still in it early stages, with early adoption for distributed and scale–out storage because it eliminates overprovisioning and supports high endurance in flash SSDs. Transactional databases also benefit from the low latency.

De Wispelaere said that even though there’s a foundational standard for ZNS via NVMe, there’s a lot of room for flexibility in how it’s implemented in a device. “If customers today tested a device from us versus Samsung, they get a different experience. The essence of our collaboration here is making sure customers can expect a consistent experience.”

Customers want to be able to use different vendors in the same environment, he said, and want to keep their options open when sourcing drives. “Most of our customers don’t want to be locked in.”

There’s also a lot of interest in data placement, De Wispelaere said, which for zoned storage differs from the value proposition of recently introduced and rapidly maturing compute express link (CXL) protocol. CXL is focused toward getting data closer to where it’s processed using the most appropriate storage or memory device.

For the purposes of zoned storage, data placement is about the vertical optimization in the software stack. Beyond zone storage and looking at broader fabrics, the overall goal of the collaboration is to further integration as well as provide partners with as much control to better use Western Digital devices efficiently to get the best cost benefits for their environment, De Wispelaere said.

Both Samsung and Western Digital have SSD offerings that implement the NVMe ZNS specification (Source: Western Digital) (Click image to enlarge)

That environment is still going to include spinning disk, noted De Wispelaere, as HDDs are still popular for their high capacities at an appealing price point. “Storage architectures require hard drives and will require hard drives for a very long time.”

Park explained that designing data storage infrastructure at a massive scale compounds the inefficiencies in current architectures, especially for hyperscale cloud and enterprise customers. “Data infrastructures across the cloud and at the edge, connected by extremely high–speed networks and driven by billions of end-point devices, are not only creating massive data growth, but also bringing complexities resulting from heterogeneous systems and workloads.”

He said next–generation storage technologies such as zoned storage and other D2PF technologies are needed to create greater efficiencies. These technologies are beginning to be embraced by data center customers to help improve asset utilization, latency, and cost.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.

 

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