The Skinny on NVM Express and ESXi

NVMexpress.gifVMware_logo_gry_RGB_small.jpg

NVMe Drivers and SSD support in ESXi

VMware officially announced support for NVM Express (NVMe) with the release of an asynchronous driver designed for use in ESXi 5.5 in November of 2014.  This driver enables support for PCI Express based Solid-State Drives compatible with the NVM Express 1.0e specification, and is available as a standalone download from VMware (see download links below).  In March of 2015, with the release of vSphere 2015 and ESXi 6.0, VMware now provides an inbox NVMe driver as part of the ESXi 6.0 installation media.

Intel has also developed an NVMe driver for ESXi.  VMware’s I/O Vendor Partner Program (IOVP) certified this driver in March of 2015 for use under both ESXi 5.5 and 6.0.  Intel’s goal with this driver is to provide our SSD customers an optimal experience, and maintaining our own NVMe driver under ESXi allows for better supportability along with access to features unique to Intel SSDs.  The Intel-developed NVMe driver only supports Intel NVMe devices, whereas the VMware version claims all NVMe devices (including Intel’s of course).  The installation package for the Intel NVMe driver contains the required vSphere Installation Bundle (VIB) and is binary compatible with both ESXi 5.5 and 6.0, thus the same download covers both ESXi versions.  The Intel driver installation bundle is available on intel.com and vmware.com (see download links below).

Along with software support for NVMe in ESXi, VMware introduced a new class of I/O devices in the VMware Compatibility Guide (VCG).  The newly introduced I/O device type is aptly named “NVMe”.  While the VMware NVMe driver will claim all NVMe devices, it’s important to make sure the device itself has also passed IOVP certification. A listing of all NVMe SSDs that are officially supported in ESXi can be found here.  To find an NVMe driver to use with the SSD, simply click on the Model name and download links for an appropriate NVMe driver are displayed.

Download Links

NVMe Drivers for ESXi

Driver Creator ESXi 5.5 ESXi 6.0
Intel intel.com

vmware.com

intel.com

vmware.com

VMware vmware.com N/A (inbox with ESXi 6.0)

Other Links of Interest

Link Details
All approved NVMe devices in ESXi The VMware Compatibility Guide pre-filtered to show all approved NVMe I/O devices.
Approved Intel NVMe devices in ESXi The VMware Compatibility Guide pre-filtered to show all approved Intel NVMe I/O devices.
Intel® SSD Data Center Family Overview Provides access to more information on Intel’s NVMe PCIe SSDs.
nvmexpress.org More information on what NVMe is, why you should consider using it, and news/upcoming events.

In summary, if you are running ESXi 5.5 or above, chances are good that there is an NVMe driver and SSD combination that will work for you, allowing you to experience the performance benefits that NVMe SSDs offer.  That being said, it’s always best to cross-check against the VMware Compatibility Guide and ensure that the SSD you want to use is listed, and that you are using it with an approved driver version.

 

Other blogs on Operating Systems with NVM Express driver information:

https://communities.intel.com/community/itpeernetwork/blog/2015/06/09/nvm-express-linux-driver-support-decoded

https://communities.intel.com/community/itpeernetwork/blog/2015/06/30/nvm-express-windows-driver-support-decoded

Published on Categories StorageTags ,

About Ken LeTourneau

Ken LeTourneau serves as an SSD Storage Solutions Architect at Intel. He works with leading software vendors on architecture and usage analysis for software defined storage infrastructure. He advises leading IT decision makers about best practices around storage and virtualization technologies. Previously, Ken served as an Engineering Manager and Build Tools Engineer in Intel’s Graphics Software Development and Validation group. He got his start as an Application Developer and Application Support Specialist in Intel’s Information Technology group.