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Fast App: Accelerating iSCSI SAN Storage

By DE Editors

Current data centers require frequent high-speed access between server and storage infrastructures for timely response to customers. Web-based service providers, such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS), provide high-speed access to their customers while keeping infrastructure costs low. For a cost-efficient and higher speed requirement, 40GigE infrastructure combined with software-based iSCSI storage provides an ideal solution.

StarWind SAN iSCSI software running over a Mellanox ConnectX-2 40GigE networking solution provides better performance, high availability (HA) and redundant iSCSI storage solutions at 40Gb/s bandwidth and higher IOPs. The installation time for StarWind iSCSI SAN is very short, and takes only a few minutes. It requires no reboot and is entirely plug-and-play with no downtime.

A Solution Emerges
Under Mellanox Enterprise Datacenter’s initiative, StarWind used Mellanox Zorro cluster (See: Mellanox.com/content/ pages.php?pg=edc_cluster), to run StarWind iSCSI Initiator on HP DL380 systems with Mellanox ConnectX-2 40GigE NICs. The servers were connected, as shown in the connectivity diagram (see Figure 1). Full performance benefits were realized over the maximum bandwidth allowed by the PCIe Gen2. A record level of 27Gb/s throughput and 350K IOPs were achieved. The higher speed solution provides faster access to the storage data in an iSCSI fabric.

Solution components include:

  • 3 servers of Zorro (HP DL380 G6 with  2*167GB disks, 24GB RAM, 8 cores)
  • 6 Mellanox HCAs with 40Gb/s per PCIe Gen2 slot single port, 2 HCAs in each server. F/W: 2.7.9470. Ordering Part: MNQH19-XTR
  • Connected with 3 subnets (not 40GigE  switch), copper QSFP cables
  • OS: Windows 2008 Server R2
  • OFED: driver version

With non-HA configuration (the only node called HA 1 and the client were performing I/O through the single 40Gb/s connection in both directions utilizing full-duplex Ethernet) cluster got 25Gb/s of an iSCSI traffic (due to PCIe Gen 2 system limitations full 40Gb/s wire speed was not reached). Tests with updated PCIe Gen3 hardware wire speed of 40Gb/s over iSCSI can be achieved, without any change in networking hardware, software and StarWind iSCSI SAN software. 300K IOPs at 25Gb/s were achieved with 16 clients using StarWind iSCSI SAN software. This represents a superior performance gain over current iSCSI HBA solutions.

Mellanox Graph

The full HA version (both with HA 1 and HA 2 nodes are processing requests served under Round-Robin policy) achieves the same results as the non-HA configuration but with more workers and deeper I/O queue, which is a shortcoming for Microsoft SW initiator. Every single write went through the wire twice: first from Client to HA 1 (or 2) and then from HA 1 (or 2) to HA 2 (or 1), partner HA node before it got acknowledged as “OK” to Client. Full HA versions can reach non-HA performance with heavy and non-pulsating I/O traffic. A full set of graphs for both IOPs and Gb/s are published below. System RAM was used as a destination I/O target, which mirrors the rising trend of SSD usage in storage servers. A traditional storage stack (another PCIe controller, set of hard disks, etc.) would only add latency to the whole system and limit performance.

Accelerated Cost-effective Storage Solutions
Consolidating over 40Gb/s networking solution for iSCSI in a virtual environment is recommended for blade server setup, as it will replace four 10GigE individual links. Trunking over 4X 10Gb/s links to achieve 40Gb/s does not work well for iSCSI, as 4KB iSCSI PDU will crawl through only two of four cards put into the trunk, leaving half of the theoretical bandwidth under-loaded. Increased latency with trunking and combined four 10Gb/s cards at a higher cost compared to single 40Gb/s makes consolidated 40Gb/s a more future proof option.


Higher ROI has been demonstrated:

  • Fewer PCIe slots have been used to achieve the same bandwidth (one instead of four).
  • Less cables between cluster nodes.
  • Lower power solution (single silicon powered and one copper wire instead of four).
  • Easier to install and manage.
  • Superior scalability solution " higher bandwidth can be achieved using the same number of slots.

Mellanox says using StarWind iSCSI SAN software version 5.6 with Mellanox ConnectX-2 EN Adapters plus 10Gb/s or higher speeds (preferably 40Gb/s), for current and future x86 servers along with PCIe Gen2 and PCIe Gen 3-enabled systems, is a cost- and power-efficient software-based iSCSI end-to-end solution for virtualized and non-virtualized environments.


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DE's editors contribute news and new product announcements to Digital Engineering. Press releases can be sent to them via DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.