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Written by Antoine Harb, Team Leader Middle East, and North Africa at Kingston Technology

The market debut of the high-performance communication interface and driver Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) has up the ante in the field of storage media. Changing the game in the industry, the low-latency NVMe solution has been designed to work faster than the legacy Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) and the Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) protocols, deliver increased and efficient performance and interoperability on a broad range of enterprise and client systems.

Built to define a command set and feature set for PCI Express-based (PCIe) Solid-State Drives (SSDs), NVMe has rapidly gained traction as a preferred storage protocol among some consumers and enterprises, especially data-driven businesses, in need of long-term performance stability. Shifting to an NVMe drive with enterprise-grade SSDs is a necessary update to support, among other things, mission-critical applications.

While this is the emerging trend, it is also important to point out that a number of hardware configurations of computer systems and servers still operate using SATA or SAS. SATA, in particular, remains the industry standard for storage protocols. Several data managers are, in fact, still not keen on the upgrade, even opting for a 50/50 percent mix of SATA and NVMe drives for their servers. This is because upgrading to NVMe, while rich with value-added features, is costly as the change often entails a technical overhaul. Also, not all existing servers have enough PCIe ports, which NVMe uses to enable rapid data transmission, thus, in this case, making large-scale NVMe rollout impossible.

With this in mind, it is, therefore, prudent to ask: Should you altogether abandon SATA and jump to NVMe?

To reach a decision that fits your needs, it is important to take a closer look into the two systems and weigh all the pros and cons, given that their performance can be affected by a host of factors such as operating system (OS) and hardware compatibility.

SATA: Supporting Different Devices
SATA was unveiled in 2000 to deliver quick speed connections and improved performance than the Parallel ATA standard. As part of the continuous improvement of the technology, SATA III with a maximum 600 Mbps transfer rate was later deployed. This version uses the Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) to communicate with the computer system.

Due to its design, the cost-efficient SATA, which remains a dominant form factor, can support a wide variety of devices. It is also being leveraged to support tasks in which fast data transmission is not a top priority such as data archiving and storing rarely-used documents.

In the industry, Kingston is one of the leading players that offers a myriad of products with the SATA interface to consumers and businesses alike. Its solutions, including A400SSD, UV500SSD, KC600 SSD, DC500 SSD and DC450R SSD, have a wide range of models and capacities capable of providing better speed, performance and reliability compared to traditional hard drives.

But while they are considered a bigger improvement than its predecessor, SATA connectors and command sets fall short in terms of supporting data-intensive environments. They also cannot support devices that require quick data transmission and low latency; thus, an alternative is in order.

High-Performance NVMe
Designed for SSDs, NVMe uses high-speed PCIe sockets, which transfer 25 times more data than their SATA equivalent, to communicate between the storage interface and the System CPU. Working with all major OS regardless of form factor, NVMe-based drives can send commands two times faster than AHCI drivers – up to 900 percent faster than their AHCI equivalent – while their Input/Output operations per second exceed 1 million.

Available in PCIe card slot, M.2, U.2 and other form factors, NVMe is steadily becoming the new industry standard for both servers in the data center and client devices such as laptops, desktops and gaming consoles. Moreover, the U.2 form factor enables NVMe drives to be hot-pluggable in front-loading server bays as long as host and OS support are available.

Switching to NVMe protocol is the only option if the entire network requires higher performance, faster and more responsive systems. In addition, the NVMe protocol is essential if you need tiered and data-intensive application support or if you require a high-performance drive but you have limited physical space. At Kingston, we have a suite of NVME solutions such as A2000 and KC2500 and enterprise solutions such as DC1000B and DC1000M to meet specific market needs today.

Before purchasing NVMe SSD, it is important to check if it is compatible with your hardware and OS. Another thing to consider is the upfront cost as NVMe deployment does not come cheap. There are cases that hardware changes such as new backplanes and motherboards are vital to ensure compatibility.

While NVMe is more superior than SATA, it may not be advisable to ditch the latter entirely. Like others, a combination of both may be a more practical route for your upgrades. Ultimately, it is always best to consider all the advantages and disadvantages, and then make a decision that is more suitable to your requirements and will serve your needs in the long run.   

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