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Intel leak reveals plans for more Optane 3D Xpoint products

Leaked Intel slides show 900P products to be launched at end of October with half a million IOPS per card. We run the rule over 3D Xpoint and what it offers enterprise customers

Intel plans to release more Optane 3D Xpoint storage products at the end of October, with the addition of the 900P in 240GB and 480GB capacity formats with NVMe connectivity.

But what is 3D Xpoint and what kind of performance can it offer?

3D Xpoint is a so-called phase-change memory solid state storage. Details of its inner workings are sketchy, but it appears to be built from a nano-scale 3D memory cell structure that is switched via a lattice of current-carrying wires.

Pre-production publicity talked of performance at 1,000x that of existing solid state storage – NAND-based – flash. But that hasn’t been borne out in productised offerings.

What is certain is that Optane – developed jointly with Micron – can provide storage that falls between the extremely high performance of DRAM and NAND flash in terms of latency, IOPS and throughput.

That makes it suited to niche but very high-performance use cases, such as real-time analytics and transactional processing. But the introduction of a second tier of memory/storage between RAM and NAND flash will also cause changes in hardware architectures and requires software to be rewritten, say some.

Performance figures on Optane in leaked Intel slides show the 900P product offering a claimed 550,000 and 500,000 IOPS for 4K reads and writes, respectively. Throughput figures were cited at 2.5GBps and 2GBps for reads and writes, respectively. No latency figures were given.

By comparison, IOPS figures for, say, Intel SATA-connected flash SSDs are in the low tens of thousands. Meanwhile, latencies are quoted in the 50μs to 60μs range, which is almost certainly a lab result rather than one achieved in practical scenarios as traditionally connected (SCSI and SATA) flash drives are usually around a millisecond in latency.

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Intel’s 900P products will join its P4800X, launched in March, which offers 375GB of NVMe-connected capacity plus two M.2-connected products in 16GB and 32GB that are aimed at memory/cache use cases.

So, where are Optane drives available in storage products?

Among startups, these are centred on products that have started to exploit NVMe flash.

For example, E8 offers Optane in its X24, while Vexata has Optane options in its VX-100 hardware product and claims latency of 40µs, which it says is near bare metal performance, made possible by offloading controller functionality to massed CPUs in storage blades.

Meanwhile, among the big storage players, HPE has demonstrated Optane in 3PAR arrays, NetApp has it on its roadmap as storage controller cache in NVMe/f scenarios and IBM has made Optane available in servers via its bare metal cloud service, but Hitachi Data Systems and Dell EMC do not appear to have anything publicised yet.

Read more on Flash storage and solid-state drives (SSDs)