Intel Optane DIMM aims at persistent storage on the motherboard

Intel to make 3D Xpoint flash available to applications in a tier below RAM and above storage, with in-memory databases, analytics and high performance computing set to benefit

Intel recently announced its Optane DC Persistent Memory, which will allow 3D Xpoint flash storage to be deployed in DDR4 DIMM slots on server motherboards.

The Intel product and those that follow from other storage media makers will allow the fastest flash media to be deployed as a new tier, below RAM and above SSD.

Its key advantage is that it brings density of storage – it will come in capacities of 128GB, 256GB and 512GB – but available via motherboard slots. That will offer a real advantage in lower latency compared to flash media in bays (or external arrays) connected via SCSI or even NVMe.

Key use cases will therefore be in-memory databases, big data and analytics, as well as high-performance computing and cloud and virtualisation workloads.

The advantages for in-memory database workloads are particularly illustrative, which is a use case that has been tackled in this way before.

In-memory databases work by moving all or some of the database into RAM.

This provides a huge and predictable performance boost compared with working from cache and storage, but is risky in terms of data protection because RAM is volatile storage that can be lost if a power outage happens for any reason.

Putting 3D Xpoint may get around that problem for some use cases. It is flash storage and is therefore non-volatile, and although it doesn’t have latency in the same league as RAM, it gets nearer than any other medium has done.

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We’re talking nanoseconds – tiny fractions of microseconds for RAM – to maybe a few μs for 3D Xpoint as quoted, for example, for Intel’s Optane drives.

Some use cases – such as transactional processing – have steered clear of in-memory working because of the data protection risks, but flash via the DIMM slot could be a viable option.

So far, Intel has offered remote selective testing of Optane DC Persistent Memory until August, with general availability planned for 2019. This testing phase is to allow developers to build the code required into applications that will allow for use of this extra tier of storage.

So, for those with high-performance storage needs, it could be time to think about the ways the storage stack will be rearchitected with the arrival of media that can offer the fastest available flash via the motherboard DIMM slot.

Be aware, though, that Optane DC Persistent Memory will not drop into existing servers and is likely to need compatible motherboards and Xeon CPUs.

This was last published in June 2018

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