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Intel Optane SSDs and memory have been slow to take off in the market. The 3D XPoint-based storage class memory's high price has dampened user interest since Intel came out with its first Optane SSDs in 2017. And, as yet, few applications have been written for the technology. However, that may change due to two 2019 developments: Intel shipped its first Optane DIMM cards, and Micron Technology came out with its competing 3D XPoint SSDs. Intel plans its second-generation Optane SSDs for 2020.
Intel rolled out its Optane DC persistent memory DIMMs in April 2019, targeting them at closing the performance gap between dynamic RAM (DRAM) and NAND flash. The Optane DIMMs are mostly used in servers, but Intel said they would be coming to workstations for users of large data sets. Optane DC persistent memory can deliver up to 3 TB per CPU and 6 TB per client workstation, according to Intel.
On the SSD front, Micron's 3D XPoint-based X100 NVMe SSD is expected to be generally available in 2020. The company claimed the X100 will deliver up to 2.5 million IOPS for data reads, more than 9 GBps of read/write throughput and latency at 8 microseconds (μs) or less. Intel intends to ship its second-generation Optane DC SSDs this year. It has claimed they will sustain an average I/O latency of 10 μs up to a load of at least 800,000 IOPS.
That's the future -- one where it's unclear whether Optane and storage class memory (SCM) will have a place in every data center. For now, several companies are developing and shipping products incorporating Optane SSDs and memory for customers with high-performance requirements. What follows is a look at some of the Optane-based products that were in the works and launched in 2019.
Dell EMC PowerMax SAN arrays
Dell EMC rolled out a version of its PowerMax high-performance SAN array, the first array to incorporate NVMe SSDs and dual-ported Intel Optane DC D4800X SSDs on the same data plane. The Optane memory appears as a persistent tier on the array, and the dual ports provide redundancy. Optane handles reads and migrates hot traffic from the NVMe flash.
A Dell EMC PowerMax system can have from two to 16 controllers, and there's no cost premium for adding NVMe and SCM, by themselves or in combination. Based on its own testing, Dell EMC said the PowerMax 8000 with NVMe and SCM delivered half the latency of the company's SAS SSD systems.
Formulus Black's Forsa
Startup Formulus Black started working with Intel in 2019 to develop an Optane DC persistent memory-powered system to enable developers using Packet's cloud platform to test, validate and optimize data-intensive and real-time application workloads. Linux-based Formulus Black Forsa software enables applications and data to reside in DRAM and provisions persistent memory as low-latency storage in a two-socket server that has high availability and scale-out capabilities. Forsa runs on any commodity server with memory of 256 GB or more.
Forsa uses algorithms to optimize I/O between the Optane persistent memory and the CPU and enhance Optane DC's performance. Formulus Black said this approach has resulted in decreased CPU usage, more transactions per second/IOPS and lower latency under maximum load conditions.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise Memory-Driven Flash
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) added its Memory-Driven Flash, a new class of enterprise storage that incorporates SCM, to its mid-tier Nimble Storage arrays in 2019. It had already incorporated Memory-Driven Flash in its high-end 3PAR StoreServ arrays. On one drive, HPE Memory-Driven Flash combines NAND flash for durable storage and an Intel Optane memory card to cache frequently accessed data and metadata.
By adding Memory-Driven Flash into the 3PAR and Nimble systems, HPE aims to meet the high-performance needs of AI, real-time analytics and transactional processing applications of industries such as financial services and e-commerce. HPE has claimed Memory-Driven Flash to be 10 times faster than standard NAND arrays, with performance levels close to DRAM but at a lower cost and higher density than DRAM. SCM drives can deliver 10 times more write cycles than NAND arrays and have more consistent response times at higher workload densities, according to HPE.
MemVerge Memory-Converged Infrastructure
Startup MemVerge emerged from stealth in April 2019 and announced it was in the early release phase with its Memory-Converged Infrastructure. The appliance is powered by MemVerge's Distributed Memory Objects technology, which was built specifically to run on Optane persistent memory. The OS brings together DRAM, Intel Optane DIMMs and traditional SSDs in one system. DRAM is used as cache, and Optane DIMMs expand main memory or run low-latency block storage. The appliance is slated for general availability in 2020.
NetApp Memory Accelerated Data
In the fall of 2018, NetApp announced its Memory Accelerated Data, or Max Data, software-defined product based on NetApp's OnTap OS and commodity servers. It added support for Optane DC persistent memory when Intel made it available in 2019.
With Max Data, NetApp capitalized on the Plexistor persistent memory technology it acquired in 2017. Plexistor software combined converged server memory and NVMe flash as non-volatile storage to run in-memory databases without a dedicated compute-storage cluster.
NetApp Max Data serves as a front-end acceleration tier for scalable and relational databases. Its file system moves data to NetApp Fabric-Attached Storage, or FAS, back-end storage, and NetApp FabricPool is used to move data to clouds. The system is designed to reduce latency and is targeted at customers using high-performance transaction systems to analyze data in real time.
Pure Storage FlashArray
Pure Storage at its Pure Accelerate 2019 user conference announced a flash upgrade that included DirectMemory modules, based on dual-ported Intel Optane SSDs, to facilitate read caching in Pure's FlashArray. The DirectMemory modules are available for the Pure FlashArray//X70R2 and FlashArray//X90R2 arrays. FlashArray//X systems are used for analytics, hybrid clouds and optimizing production databases.
At the time of the launch, Pure claimed the combination of NVMe flash and SCM made reads as much as 40% faster and provided as much as 6 Gbps of additional bandwidth. Today, the vendor says on its website that the modules provide as much as 50% improved read latency. The DirectMemory modules are available in increments of four or eight drives with respective configurations of 3 TB and 6 TB.
Vast Data Universal Storage
Vast Data rolled out its Universal Storage system early in 2019. The all-flash Universal Storage combines quad-level cell (QLC) SSDs, high-performance Intel Optane drives and NVMe-oF to connect nodes. The company said the system is designed to handle the most demanding workloads, providing exabyte-scale capacity and flash at the cost of spinning disks. Universal Storage includes a high availability NVMe flash enclosure with four C Node controller heads. The QLC serves as a translation layer for intelligent data placement, and the system integrates a 3D XPoint buffer to prolong the life of QLC SSDs.
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