Overheating NVMe Flash Drives

I recently deployed an all-NVMe based vSAN configuration in my home lab. I’ll be posting more information on my setup soon, but I decided to use OEM Samsung based SSDs. I’ve got 256GB SM961 MLC based drives for my cache tier, and larger 1TB enterprise-grade PM953s for capacity. These drives are plenty quick for vSAN and can be had for great prices on eBay if you know where to look.

The Samsung Polaris based SM961 is similar to the 960 Pro and well suited for vSAN caching.

Being OEM drives, they don’t have any heatsinks and are pretty bare. As I started running some performance tests using synthetic tools like Crystal Disk Mark and ATTO, I began to see instability. My guest running the test would completely hang after a few minutes of testing and I’d be forced to reboot the ESXi host to recover.

Looking through the logs, it became clear what had happened:

2019-08-16T15:43:26.083Z cpu0:2341677)nvme:AsyncEventReportComplete:3050:Smart health event: Temperature above threshold
2019-08-16T15:43:26.087Z cpu9:2097671)nvme:NvmeExc_ExceptionHandlerTask:317:Critical warnings detected in smart log [2], failing controller
2019-08-16T15:43:26.087Z cpu9:2097671)nvme:NvmeExc_RegisterForEvents:370:Async event registration requested while controller is in Health Degraded state.

One of my nvme drives had overheated! The second time I tried the test, I watched more closely.

Sure enough, it wasn’t the older PM953s overheating, but the newer Polaris based SM961 cache drives. As soon as the heavy writes started, the drive’s temperature steadily increased until it approached 70’C. The moment it hit 70, the guest hung. Looking more closely in ESXi, I could see that the drive completely disappeared. I.e. it was no longer listed as a NVMe device or HBA in the system. It appears that this is safety measure to stop the controller from cooking itself to the point of permanent damage. Since I had no idea it was running so hot, I’d say I’m thankful for this feature – but none the less, I’d have to figure out some way to keep these drives cooler.

ESXi has a limited implementation of SMART monitoring and can pull a few specific metrics. Thankfully, drive temperature is one of them. First, I needed to get the t10 identifier for my nvme drives:

[root@esx-e1:~] esxcli storage core device list |grep SAMSUNG
Display Name: Local NVMe Disk (t10.NVMe____SAMSUNG_MZVPW256HEGL2D000H1______________6628B171C9382499)
Devfs Path: /vmfs/devices/disks/t10.NVMe____SAMSUNG_MZVPW256HEGL2D000H1______________6628B171C9382499
Display Name: Local NVMe Disk (t10.NVMe____SAMSUNG_MZ1LV960HCJH2D000MU______________1505216B24382888)
Devfs Path: /vmfs/devices/disks/t10.NVMe____SAMSUNG_MZ1LV960HCJH2D000MU______________1505216B24382888

Running a four second refresh interval using ‘watch’ is a useful way to monitor the drive under stress.

[root@esx-e1:~] watch -n 4 "esxcli storage core device smart get -d t10.NVMe____SAMSUNG_MZVPW256HEGL2D000H1______________6628B171C9382499"
Parameter Value Threshold Worst
---------------------------- ----- --------- -----
Health Status OK N/A N/A
Media Wearout Indicator N/A N/A N/A
Write Error Count N/A N/A N/A
Read Error Count N/A N/A N/A
Power-on Hours 974 N/A N/A
Power Cycle Count 62 N/A N/A
Reallocated Sector Count 0 95 N/A
Raw Read Error Rate N/A N/A N/A
Drive Temperature 35 70 N/A
Driver Rated Max Temperature N/A N/A N/A
Write Sectors TOT Count N/A N/A N/A
Read Sectors TOT Count N/A N/A N/A
Initial Bad Block Count N/A N/A N/A

As you can see, the maximum temperature is listed as 70’C. This isn’t a suggestion as I’ve come to learn the hard way.

To get things cooler I decided to move my fans around in my Antec VSK4000 cases. My lab is geared toward silence more than cooling so the airflow near the PCIe slots is pretty poor. I’ve now got a 120mm fan on the side-panel cooling the slots directly. This benefits my Solarflare 10Gbps NICs as well, which can get quite toasty. This helped significantly, but if I leave a synthetic test running long enough, it will eventually get to 70’C again. Clearly, I’ll need to add passive heatsinks to the SM961s if I want to keep them cool in these systems.

Realistically, it’s only synthetic and very heavy write tests that seem to get the temperature climbing to those levels. It’s unlikely that day-to-day use would cause a problem. None the less, I’m going to look into heatsinks for the drives. They can be had for $5-10 on Amazon, so it seems like a small investment for some extra peace of mind.

The morale of the story – keep an eye on your NVMe controller temps!

4 thoughts on “Overheating NVMe Flash Drives”

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I experienced the exact same behavior of VMs erroring out and then logging into ESXi to find the datastore missing. I had a feeling it was due to SSD temps because my case has no airflow and it would only happen when dumping a large amount of data to the datastore SSD. The Bash code I wrote to grab this and send it to InfluxDB can be seen at my Github repository “influx-scripts” under the same username (unsure if links are allowed). Thanks again for the tip on grabbing drive temperature out of ESXi!

  2. Almost thinking of trying to RMA my 6 month old Seagate BarraCuda 1Tb NVMe as my ESXi 6.5 host dropped it’s datastore twice. I just thought it would simply throttle itself as it approached it’s 75 deg threshold. The other two drives (Intel 660p (77 deg) & 970 Evo (85) are fine in adjacent slots. Thanks for your esxcli monitoring, time for a heatsink

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