Wuhan Plugfest: The NVMe Testing Service Takes on China

Hello reader! My name is Carter Snay, and I have been working at the UNH-IOL since March 2017. I was initially working in the iSCSI testing service, but moved to NVMe in August of 2017 where I currently still work. I am an Environmental Science major, which is different than all of my peers who are either IT or CS. Generally I’ll get a confused look when a vendor asks me what I’m studying, but I’m still able to do the work on account of the staff at the UNH-IOL always teaching me many of the things that make me useful to the team I work on. Anyways, on to the plugfest in Wuhan!

The NVMe testing service at the UNH-IOL has hosted many plugfests here in Durham, New Hampshire. A plugfest is a group testing event where companies come together to test their products in a neutral playing field. Plugfests attract visitors from around the world, including the NVMe testing service. We typically host two annual NVMe plugfests, but this time around it was decided that we would bring the plugfest to vendors since the majority of flash memory SSD producers are located in Asia. This past year we traveled to Wuhan China to the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST for short). This would be the first time the UNH-IOL facilitated a plugfest in Asia!

Generally we have a plugfest just after we release a new version of our test software called IOL INTERACT, which ends up being two times a year. We also host  NVMe-Over Fabrics plugfests which tests NVMe-TCP, NVMe-RoCE, and NVMe-Fibre Channel. However for the Wuhan Plugfest we would only be testing NVMe PCIe. We released IOL INTERACT 9.0a in April, and hosted a plugfest in June. At the plugfest in June there were far fewer Asian SSD companies than previous years due to the fact that we would be travelling the following month to Wuhan with an improved version of IOL INTERACT, 9.0b. The tool we use, IOL INTERACT, is our flagship conformance test suite tool that we run on Ubuntu Linux when testing PCIe. We also ran conformance testing using the Teledyne Lecroy protocol analyzer on Windows, which is able to access certain functions that are unavailable to the linux tool.

My job at the plugfest was to run Lecroy testing, which I had never done in a plugfest before, and not to mention there was a language barrier as well. So going into the plugfest, I was a little nervous to see how I would perform, and how interacting with all of the vendors would go. That being said, it was still a great chance to jump into a new area of testing to make myself more useful to the testing group and team of test technicians at the lab.

After arriving at HUST and settling into a groove of testing, things went smoothly on all facets of our testing services. I was able to understand the vendors requests, and assist them working through most of the bugs that arose. Teledyne support was there as well to assist with any hiccups with the analyzer hardware, but thankfully there were virtually no problems for the entire event.

There were a total of nine companies that attended and a total of 18 different NVMe SSDs that needed to be tested, so we had our work cut out for us.  We managed to run our PC Edition test tool for linux, IOL INTERACT Lecroy Edition, and interoperability testing more quickly than expected. One person handled IOL INTERACT PC Edition while I worked with Lecroy, and two others worked with the various interoperability hosts. We took the divide and conquer approach, and it worked out very well for us and the vendors.

The staff and students at HUST were immensely helpful assisting with making sure we were able to communicate effectively with the vendors, showing us around Wuhan after work, and making us feel very welcome. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to experience as much of Wuhan and the Chinese culture. I cannot overstate how cool and unique of an experience it was to walk around Wuhan, a mega-city, at night. Everyone was very friendly, (aside from one cab scammer that we avoided thanks to my managers good situational awareness in the airport), the food was great and the city of Wuhan was an amazingly massive place that I had never heard of. Even now myself and my colleagues whom I traveled with still reminisce about our experiences together in the Eastern hemisphere. It really was one of the coolest things I have ever done, and it was for work!

There are many details that I can’t possibly fit in this blog post, but I’ll leave it at this. I am so grateful that I got the chance to go. I can remember touring the IOL as a prospective student and hearing IOLers talk about how they’ve traveled for the lab, and I always thought they were the lucky ones and that I wouldn't’t have that chance. Well it turns out, I got lucky! After putting in work for about a year and a half, I was able to travel to Wuhan, and I will never forget Wuhan and the people I met there, and I really hope I get the chance to go back soon.