Build userspace NVMe drivers and storage applications with CUDA support
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libnvm: An API for building userspace NVMe drivers and storage applications

This library is a userspace API implemented in C for writing custom NVM Express (NVMe) drivers and high-performance storage applications. The API provides simple semantics and functions which a userspace program can use to control or manage one or more NVMe disk controllers.

The API is in essence similar to SPDK, in that it moves driver code to userspace and relies on hardware polling rather than being interrupt driven. By mapping userspace memory directly, libnvm eliminates the cost of context switching into kernel space and enables zero-copy access from userspace. This greatly reduces the latency of IO operations compared to accessing storage devices through normal file system abstractions provided by the Linux kernel.

libnvm is able to provide a simple low-level block-interface with extremely low latency in the IO path. With minimal driver support, it is possible to set up arbitrary memory mappings to device memory, enabling direct IO between NVMe storage devices and other PCIe devices (PCIe peer-to-peer).

As NVMe is designed in a way that reflects the inherent parallelism in modern computing architectures, we are able to provide a lock-less interface to the disk which can be shared by multiple computing instances. libnvm can be linked with CUDA programs, enabling high-performance storage access directly from your CUDA kernels. This is achieved by placing IO queues and data buffers directly in GPU memory, eliminating the need to involve the CPU in the IO path entirely.

A huge benefit of the parallel design of NVMe combined with the possibility of using arbitrary memory addresses for buffers and queues also means that a disk can be shared concurrently by multiple computing instances. By setting up mappings using a PCIe Non-Transparent Bridge (PCIe NTB), it is possible for multiple PCIe root complexes to share a disk concurrently. The API can be linked with applications using the SISCI SmartIO API from Dolphin Interconnect Solutions, allowing the user to create powerful custom configurations of remote and local devices and NVMe disks in a PCIe cluster. In other words, it enables concurrent low-latency access to NVMe disks from multiple machines in the cluster.

Quick start

You need a PCIe-attached or M.2 NVMe disk (not the system disk!). If the disk contains any data, you should back this up before proceeding. It is also highly recommended that you read the NVMe specification first, which can be found at the following URL:

Prerequisites and requirements

Please make sure that the following is installed on your system:

  • A relatively new Linux kernel
  • CMake 3.1 or newer.
  • GCC version 5.4.0 or newer. Compiler must support GNU extensions for C99 and linking with POSIX threads is required.

The above is sufficient for building the userspace library and most of the example programs.

For using libnvm with your CUDA programs, you need the following:

  • An Nvidia GPU capable of GPUDirect RDMA and GPUDirect Async This means either a Quadro or Tesla workstation model using the Kepler architecture or newer.
  • An architecture that supports PCIe peer-to-peer, for example the Intel Xeon family of processors. This is strictly required if you are using SmartIO or plan on using RDMA.
  • The FindCUDA package for CMake.
  • GCC version 5.4.0 or newer. Compiler must be able to compile C++11 and POSIX threads.
  • CUDA 8.0 or newer with CUDA development toolkit.
  • Kernel module symbols and headers for your Nvidia driver.

For linking with SISCI API, you additionally need the Dolphin 5.5.0 software base (or newer) with CUDA support and SmartIO enabled.

Disable IOMMU

If you are using CUDA or implementing support for your own custom devices, you need to explicitly disable IOMMU as IOMMU support for peer-to-peer on Linux is a bit flaky at the moment. If you are not relying on peer-to-peer, I would in fact recommend you leaving the IOMMU on for protecting memory from rogue writes.

To check if the IOMMU is on, you can do the following:

$ cat /proc/cmdline | grep iommu

If either iommu=on or intel_iommu=on is found by grep, the IOMMU is enabled.

You can disable it by removing iommu=on and intel_iommu=on from the CMDLINE variable in /etc/default/grub and then reconfiguring GRUB. The next time you reboot, the IOMMU will be disabled.

As soon as peer-to-peer IOMMU support is improved in the Linux API and the Nvidia driver supports it, I will add it to the kernel module.

Using CUDA without SmartIO

If you are going to use CUDA, you also need to locate the kernel module directory and manually run make. Locations will vary on different distros and based on installation type, but on Ubuntu the driver source can be usually found in /usr/src/nvidia-<major>-<major>.<minor> if you install CUDA through the .deb. package.

The CMake configuration is supposed to autodetect the location of CUDA, and the Nvidia driver by looking for a file called Module.symvers in known directories. Make sure that this file is generated. It is also possible to point CMake to the correct location of the driver by specifying the NVIDIA define

Make sure that the output from CMake contains both Using NVIDIA driver found in ... and Configuring kernel module with CUDA.

Building the project

From the project root directory, do the following:

$ mkdir -p build; cd build
$ cmake .. -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release # use =Debug for debug build
$ make libnvm                         # builds library
$ make examples                       # builds example programs

The CMake configuration is supposed to autodetect the location of CUDA, Nvidia driver and SISCI library. CUDA is located by the FindCUDA package for CMake, while the location of both the Nvidia driver and SISCI can be manually set by overriding the NVIDIA and DIS defines for CMake (cmake .. -DNVIDIA=/usr/src/... -DDIS=/opt/DIS/`).

After this, you should also compile the libnvm helper kernel module unless you are using SISCI SmartIO. Assuming that you are still standing in the build directory, do the following:

$ cd module; make # only required if not using SISCI SmartIO

If you have disabled the IOMMU, you can run the identify example to verify that your build is working. Find out your disk's PCI BDF by using lspci. In our example, assume that it is 05:00.0.

First unbind the default nvme driver from the disk:

$ echo -n "0000:05:00.0" > /sys/bus/pci/devices/0000\:05\:00.0/driver/unbind

Then run the identify sample (standing in the build directory). It should look something like this:

$ make libnvm && make identify
$ ./bin/nvm-identify-userspace --ctrl=05:00.0
Resetting controller and setting up admin queues...
------------- Controller information -------------
PCI Vendor ID           : 86 80
PCI Subsystem Vendor ID : 86 80
NVM Express version     : 1.2.0
Controller page size    : 4096
Max queue entries       : 256
Serial Number           : BTPY74400DQ5256D
Model Number            : INTEL SSDPEKKW256G7
Firmware revision       :  PSF121C
Max data transfer size  : 131072
Max outstanding commands: 0
Max number of namespaces: 1

If you are using SISCI SmartIO, you need to use the SmartIO utility program to configure the disk for device sharing.

$ /opt/DIS/sbin/smartio_tool add 05:00.0
$ /opt/DIS/sbin/smartio_tool available 05:00.0
$ # Find out the local node identifier
$ /opt/DIS/sbin/dis_config -gn
Card 1 - NodeId:  8
$ # Connect to the local node
$ /opt/DIS/sbin/smartio_tool connect 8
$ # Find out the device identifier
$ /opt/DIS/sbin/smartio_tool list
80000: Non-Volatile memory controller Intel Corporation Device f1a5 [available]
$ # Build library and identify example
$ make libnvm && make identify-smartio
$ ./bin/nvm-identify --ctrl=0x80000  # use the device id
Resetting controller and setting up admin queues...
------------- Controller information -------------
PCI Vendor ID           : 86 80
PCI Subsystem Vendor ID : 86 80
NVM Express version     : 1.2.0
Controller page size    : 4096
Max queue entries       : 256
Serial Number           : BTPY74400DQ5256D
Model Number            : INTEL SSDPEKKW256G7
Firmware revision       :  PSF121C
Max data transfer size  : 131072
Max outstanding commands: 0
Max number of namespaces: 1
Current number of CQs   : 8
Current number of SQs   : 8

Using the libnvm helper kernel module

If you are not using SISCI SmartIO, you must use the project's kernel module in order to map GPU memory for the NVMe disk. Currently the only version of Linux tested is Linux 4.11.0. Other versions may work, but you probably have to change the call to get_user_pages() as well as any calls to the DMA API.

Repeating the requirements from the section above, you should make sure that you use a processor that supports PCIe peer-to-peer, and that you have a GPU with GPUDirect support. Remember to disable the IOMMU. If you are not using CUDA (or any other third-party stuff), it is recommended that you leave the IOMMU on.

Loading and unloading the driver is done as follows:

$ cd build/module
$ make
$ make load     # will insert the kernel module
$ make unload   # unloads the kernel module

You want to unload the default nvme driver for the NVMe disk, and bind the helper driver to it:

$ echo -n "0000:05:00.0" > /sys/bus/pci/devices/0000\:05\:00.0/driver/unbind
$ echo -n "0000:05:00.0" > /sys/bus/pci/drivers/libnvm\ helper/bind

After doing this, the file /dev/libnvm0 should show up, representing the disk's BAR0.

All CMake build settings

Settings can be passed to CMake using the -Dsetting=value flag. Here is a comprehensive list of settings that can be overridden.

Setting Default Explanation
CMAKE_BUILD_TYPE Debug Set to Release to make a release build
DIS /opt/DIS Override the Dolphin installation path
NVIDIA Override path to Nvidia driver
nvidia_archs 30;50;60;61;70 Specify compute modes and SMs
no_smartio false Don't build API with SmartIO support
no_module false Don't build kernel module
no_cuda false Don't build API with CUDA support
no_smartio_samples false Don't build SmartIO samples
no_smartio_benchmarks false Don't build SmartIO benchmarks

Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe)

NVMe is a software specification for disk controllers (drives) that provides storage on non-volatile media, for example flash memory or Intel's 3D XPoint.

The specification is designed in a way that reflects the parallelism in modern CPU architectures: a controller can support up to 2^16 - 1 IO queues with up to 64K outstanding commands per queue. It does not require any register reads in the command or completion path, and it requires a maximum of a 32-bit register write in the command submission path to a dedicated register.

The specification assumes an underlying bus interface that conforms to PCIe.

NVM Namespaces

A namespace is a quantity of non-volatile memory that may be formatted into logical blocks. A NVMe controller may support multiple namespaces. Many controllers may attach the same namespace. In many ways, a namespace can be regarded as an abstraction of traditional disk partitions.

Queue pairs and doorbells

NVMe is based on a paired submission and completiong queue mechanism. The software will enqueue commands on the submission queue (SQ), and completions are posted by the controller to the associated completion queue (CQ). Multiple SQs may use the same CQ, and queues are allocated in system memory. In other words, there are an N:M mapping of SQs and CQs.

Typically the number of command queues are based on the number of CPU cores. For example, on a four core processor, there may be a queue pair per core to avoid locking and ensure that commands are local to the appropriate processors' cache.

A SQ is a ring buffer with a fixed slot size that software uses to submit commands for execution by the controller. After the command structure is updated in memory, the software updates the appropriate SQ tail doorbell register with the number of commands to execute. The controller fetches the SQ entries in order from the SQ, but may execute them in an arbitrary order. Each entry in the SQ is a command. Commands are 64 bytes in size.

An admin submission queue (ASQ) and completion queue (ACQ) exists for the purpose of controller management and control. There is a dedicated command set for admin commands.

Physical Region Pages and Scatter-Gather Lists

Nvidia GPUDirect

Programs intended for running on GPUs or other computing accelerators that support Remote DMA (RDMA), can use this library to enable direct disk access from the accelerators. Currently, the library supports setting up mappings for GPUDirect-capable Nvidia GPUs.

PCIe NTBs and Dolphin SmartIO

Now run the latency benchmark with the specified controller and for 1000 blocks:

$ ./bin/nvm-latency-bench --ctrl=0x80000 --blocks=1000 --pattern=sequential
Resetting controller...
Queue #01 remote qd=32 blocks=1000 offset=0 pattern=sequential (4 commands)
Creating buffer (125 pages)...
Running benchmark...
Queue #01 total-blocks=1000000 count=1000 min=531.366 avg=534.049 max=541.388
	0.99:        540.287
	0.97:        539.424
	0.95:        538.568
	0.90:        535.031
	0.75:        534.377
	0.50:        534.046
	0.25:        533.030
	0.05:        532.025
	0.01:        531.859

You can also compare this with the performance of the disk locally:

$ ./bin/nvm-latency-bench --ctrl=0x80000 --blocks=1000 --pattern=sequential
Resetting controller...
Queue #01 remote qd=32 blocks=1000 offset=0 pattern=sequential (4 commands)
Creating buffer (125 pages)...
Running benchmark...
Queue #01 total-blocks=1000000 count=1000 min=536.117 avg=541.190 max=549.240
	0.99:        543.080
	0.97:        542.053
	0.95:        541.825
	0.90:        541.677
	0.75:        541.507
	0.50:        541.346
	0.25:        541.152
	0.05:        539.600
	0.01:        539.351

Note that in this configuration, reads actually have lower latency for the remote run than for the local run.

API overview

Scope and limitations of libnvm


  • nvm_ctrl_t: This is the controller reference type. Holds basic information about a controller and a memory map of its doorbell registers.

  • nvm_dma_t: DMA descriptor. This is a convenience type for describing memory regions that are mapped for a controller.

  • nvm_queue_t: Queue descriptor. Used to keep state about I/O queues. Note that the same type is used to represent submission queues (SQs) and completion queues (CQs).

  • nvm_cmd_t: Definition of an NVM IO command (SQ entry).

  • nvm_cpl_t: Definition of an NVM IO completion (CQ entry).

  • nvm_aq_ref: This is a reference to the controller's admin queue-pair. Used for RPC-like calls to the process that "owns" the admin queue-pair.

Header files

  • nvm_types.h contains type definitions for the most commonly used types. The most interesting types are:

  • nvm_ctrl.h contains functions for creating and releasing a controller reference. It also contains functions for resetting a controller.

  • nvm_dma.h has helper functions for creating DMA buffer descriptors aligned to controller pages. It also has functions for creating mappings to memory for the controller.

  • nvm_aq.h contains the necessary functions for setting up an admin queue-pair and creating a reference to this.

  • nvm_rpc.h contains functions for binding an admin queue-pair reference to the actual (remote) admin queue-pair.

  • nvm_queue.h consists of "header-only" functions for enqueuing and submitting I/O commands as well as polling for completions.

  • nvm_cmd.h contains helper functions for building NVM IO commands.

  • nvm_admin.h consists of a series of convenience functions for common admin commands, such as reserving IO queues and retrieving controller and namespace information.

  • nvm_util.h is a bunch of convenience macros.

  • nvm_error.h deals with packing and unpacking error information. Also contains a function similar to strerror() to retrieve a human readable error description.

Kernel module

Typical mode of operation

Please refer to section 7 of the NVM Express specification.