Intel Optane Finally On DIMMS

Intel first publicly discussed their 3D Point technology (developed with Micron) at the 2015 IDF and more boradly at the 2016 Storage Visions Conference. They introduced an NVMe SSD using their renamed Optane technology in 2017. Intel has now announced availability of Optane technology on a DDR4 memory channel. Providing Optane on the computer/server memory channel should allow using Optane most effectively as a non-volatile extension of DRAM.

From Intel Product Introduction

Intel’s OPTANE DC DDR Memory

Intel sees DDR-based Optane as filling the gap between fast storage (SSDs) and DRAM memory. The performance of Optane is faster than flash memory but slower than DRAM, while the endurance of Optane is better than flash memory. Like flash memory, though, Optane is a non-volatile technology and doesn’t require regular electrical refreshes to maintain its stored content. This combination makes Optane useful for traditional memory applications, and the technology can include more writing than flash memory cells can support. As a consequence, Optane can serve as a non-volatile layer, behind DRAM, effectively expanding the fast memory available to a server or host computer and providing a fast non-volatile cache to support DRAM.

From Intel Product Introduction

Intel New Memory and Storage Hierarchy

Enabling the performance of Optane on the memory channel apparently involved changes in the way the microprocessors work. Intel of course makes microprocessors, and they have been very involved in developing new memory access technologies with industry groups such as the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative, NVM Express Promotors Group and the Open Fabric Alliance. These technologies are being applied to enable Optane to provide enhanced non-volatile memory capacity (currently up to 3 TB of capacity per CPU socket) and optimal performance at a much lower cost than an all DRAM memory. Expect that new versions or upgrades of the Xeon processors will be needed to gain the greatest advantage from the Optane DDR solutions.

Intel says that this technology will have a real impact on real world data center applications, “For example, for planned restarts of a NoSQL in-memory database using Aerospike* Hybrid Memory Architecture, Intel Optane DC persistent memory provides a minutes-to-seconds restart speedup compared to DRAM-only cold restart. On memory-intensive workloads such as Redis IMDB server, Intel’s persistent memory enables higher memory capacities, delivering more server instances at the same service level agreement (SLA) performance when compared to a system configured with just DRAM.”

Intel said that Optane can be used to provide native persistence to a local processor but it can also provide persistent memory over RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access). This remote memory access allows low latency data replications and is enabled by PMoF (Persistent Memory over Fabric) which Intel is working on with industry groups, such as the Open Fabric Alliance. Intel has built a Persistent Memory Development Kit (DMDK) with a collection of libraries, APIs and an on-line community to support developers.

From Intel Product Introduction

Intel Persistent Memory over Fabric Illustration

The Optane DDR memory are available this year but many of the new capabilities are tied to new upcoming CPUs from Intel that will be selectively available in 2018 and broadly available in 2019. Intel also said that it will be shipping QLC NAND drives in the second half of 2018 and into 2019. Technologies like Intel’s Optane have the potential to dramatically change data center memory and storage in the next few years.

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