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Storage: Graid Technology Offers Its Accelerator Card for Workstations

A true RTX T400 graphics card from Nvidia, the new SupremeRAID SR-1001 multiplies the throughput of a pool of eight NVMe SSDs by two or three, compared to dedicated storage controllers.

(By Yann Serra, LeMagIT / Feb 1, 2024)

Graid, the startup which accelerates RAID between SSDs in servers and storage bays, thanks to Nvidia graphics cards for PCs, extends its offer to additional machines, in towers.

“Until now, we proposed accelerating RAID of 32 SSDs in rack servers, with Nvidia RTX T1000 (PCIe 3.0) and A2000 (PCIe 4) cards. But in reality, the need goes beyond the data center. One of our customers wanted a solution for their workstations. We therefore developed a T400 (PCIe 3) graphics card model which can accelerate a RAID of 8 NVMe SSDs in an office machine,” explains Thomas Paquette, the general manager of Graid, during an IT Press Tour event. organized at the end of January and dedicated to startups innovating in Silicon Valley.

According to benchmarks carried out by Graid, the new workstation card, called SupremeRAID SR-1001, can achieve 6 million read IOPS, with a throughput of 80 GB/s, and 500,000 write IOPS with a throughput of 30 GB/s.

Comparatively, a machine that entrusts its RAID to its main processor caps at 2 million read IOPS, with a throughput of 59 GB/s, and 200,000 write IOPS, with a throughput of only 2 GB/s. Worse, software RAID can consume up to 87% of CPU power, leaving almost nothing left for running core applications.

There is an alternative to Graid’s SupremeRAID cards: Broadcom storage controllers. On a workstation, a Broadcom 95xx type controller does barely better than a software RAID: 3.5 million IOPS in read, with a surprisingly zero throughput of 13.5 GB/s, and 180,000 IOPS in writing, with a throughput of 4 GB/s.

PCIe bus control rather than gateway mode

But it is also when an incident occurs and the RAID is saturated with work to reconstruct the lost data on a new SSD, that the SupremeRAID card gives the full measure of its power: it manages to maintain access quantities of the order of 1 million read IOPS and 350,000 write IOPS, while a software RAID collapses at 186,000 and 150,000 IOPS respectively and a Broadcom 95xx controller fails to exceed 36000 and 18000 IOPS.

“The lackluster performance of Broadcom controllers can be explained by a pure mathematical equation: each NVMe SSD uses four PCIe channels, or 32 channels in total for eight SSDs in a workstation. A Broadcom controller functions as a gateway: it collects all storage flows and delivers them to the SSDs via its own bus, via an additional PCIe switch. But since the Broadcom controller is a 16-channel PCIe card, you basically lose 50% of the possible power. »

“In our solution, the SupremeRAID card is not a gateway. It just serves to tell the PCIe bus how to route data through the different channels. There is no bottleneck,” says Thomas Paquette.

Obviously, on rack server versions where they drive 32 SSDs, the performance of Graid cards works even more miracles. The SR-1010 version, in PCIe 4.0, reaches 28 million read IOPS, with a throughput of 260 GB/s, and 2 million write IOPS, with a throughput of 100 GB/s. The SR-1000, in PCIe 3.0, displays 16 million read IOPS, with a throughput of 220 GB/s, and 820,000 write IOPS, with a throughput of 90 GB/s.

Opposite, a Broadcom 96xx controller for rack servers does not exceed 6.9 million read IOPS, with a throughput of 28.2 GB/s, and 651,000 write IOPS, with a throughput of 10.4 GB/s. s.

In terms of compatibility, Graid cards have drivers for all current versions of Linux and for the last two generations of Windows systems, both server versions (2019, 2022) and PC versions (10, 11). These drivers work on x86 machines, but also ARM. And all brands of NVMe SSDs are compatible.

On the other hand, the compatibility with virtualization layers is more surprising. Graid cards are supported by Microsoft’s Hyper-V, by KVM (the open source hypervisor for Linux distributions), by OpenVZ (a Linux hypervisor which also virtualizes containers) and by Proxmox VE (like OpenVZ, but based on on the KVM code). But they are not supported by VMware ESXi. At the same time, VMware was bought by chipmaker Broadcom, which Graid competes with.

Thomas Paquette explains that ESXi is no longer a priority: “We still support the Workstation versions of VMware. For the rest, people are worried about the acquisition of VMware by Broadcom. They are looking for alternatives. And that’s good, we are compatible with the alternatives… That said, virtualization itself creates a bottleneck. It reduces the performance gain we provide.”

Thomas Paquette then explained what Graid’s strategy was towards cloud hosts, who would constitute an important customer base for the startup, provided that the SupremeRAID cards supported their systematically virtualized infrastructures: “It’s very simple. We have no contracts with hyperscalers. However, if they were interested in our solution, we would work extra hard to optimize our solution for their virtualization. But one thing at a time. We are a small team. We develop with our means,” he said.

Soon partnerships with big names in infrastructure?

In fact, Graid has mainly occupied its last months adapting its solutions so that they work with NVMe-over-Fabrics type deployments , that is to say so that its cards can drive RAID on a disk drawer external, connected via FC, RoCE, TCP or Infiniband.

“The interesting point of this development is that our solution now works both as an initiator, that is to say from the server, and as a target, that is to say by placing the SupremeRAID card directly into the external drive bay. I cannot say more for the moment, but we focused on this aspect at the request of an infrastructure manufacturer,” says Thomas Paquette, without specifying whether it is a rack manufacturer. storage or server provider.

According to him, Graid would be in great demand by hardware manufacturers, more than by system publishers or cloud hosts. In particular, NVidia’s competitors are reportedly pressuring it to release its cards with models based on their chips.

“Wait a few more weeks so I can reveal to you who these big semiconductor players are who are looking for solutions to revolutionize storage and who think we are their answer,” concludes the CEO of Graid.

Graid isn’t the only one to come up with the idea of ​​using GPUs to speed up RAID. There is also Nyriad’s solution . However, this is designed for hard drives and not for NVMe SSDs.

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