Samsung Announces Standards-Compliant Key-Value SSD Prototype

Samsung has announced a new prototype key-value SSD that is compatible with the first industry standard API for key-value storage devices. Earlier this year, the Object Drives working group of Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) published version 1.0 of the Key Value Storage API Specification. Samsung has added support for this new API to their ongoing key-value SSD project.

Most hard drives and SSDs expose their storage capacity through a block storage interface, where the drive stores blocks of a fixed size (typically 512 bytes or 4kB) and they are identified by Logical Block Addresses that are usually 48 or 64 bits. Key-value drives extend that model so that a drive can support variable-sized keys instead of fixed-sized LBAs, and variable-sized values instead of fixed 512B or 4kB blocks. This allows a key-value drive to be used more or less as a drop-in replacement for software key-value databases like RocksDB, and as a backend for applications built atop key-value databases.

Key-value SSDs have the potential to offload significant work from a server’s CPUs when used to replace a software-based key-value database. More importantly, moving the key-value interface into the SSD itself means it can be tightly integrated with the SSD’s flash translation layer, cutting out the overhead of emulating a block storage device and layering a variable-sized storage system on top of that. This means key-value SSDs can operate with much lower write amplification and higher performance than software key-value databases, with only one layer of garbage collection in the stack instead of one in the SSD and one in the database.

Samsung has been working on key-value SSDs for quite a while, and they have been publicly developing open-source software to support KV SSDs for over a year, including the basic libraries and drivers needed to access KV SSDs as well as a sample benchmarking tool and a Ceph backend. The prototype drives they have previously discussed have been based on their PM983 datacenter NVMe drives with TLC NAND, using custom firmware to enable the key-value interface. Those drives support key lengths from 4 to 255 bytes and value lengths up to 2MB, and it is likely that Samsung’s new prototype is based on the same hardware platform and retains similar size limits.

Samsung’s Platform Development Kit software for key-value SSDs originally supported their own software API, but now additionally supports the vendor-neutral SNIA standard API. The prototype drives are currently available for companies that are interested in developing software to use KV SSDs. Samsung’s KV SSDs probably will not move from prototype status to being mass production products until after the corresponding key-value command set extension to NVMe is finalized, so that KV SSDs can be supported without needing a custom NVMe driver. The SNIA standard API for key-value drives is a high-level transport-agnostic API that can support drives using NVMe, SAS or SATA interfaces, but each of those protocols needs to be extended with key-value support.