Optane – The coolest thing since sliced bread

Occasionally, my position as a Delegate for the wonderful folks at Tech Field Day, I get the opportunity to attend an even more special event. In no way to disparage or lessen the value of the #TFDx (Tech Field Day Extra) events or the #SFD (Storage Field Day) opportunities I’ve had, but the Intel #CloudCentric event I was invited to attend in person was exceptional. On a disclosure note, I have to say that the brief in and out program I attended was funded by Tech Field Day, who brought me to San Francisco covering the cost of travel, lodging, and event fees.

There were a number of announcements made, among them a series based on Optane. I’ve long held the belief that Optane will foretell the future of server-based function. We’ve heard of the promise of Optane for years. The description has been quite promising, but unfortunately, the reality has been so very slow in arriving. That ended last week.

First, what is it? Quite briefly, a new manner of storing data on silicon. The industry has been using silicon for years to both store data on RAM and on Disc. Solid-State Disc, long a sort of panacea for alleviating the speed issues surrounding spinning disc, and we’ve been using it for years. Also, for years, the differential has been RAM is volatile, meaning that power shut down to the server meant that anything currently on RAM would be purged should a shut-down take place, and DISC, which was non-volatile. In that scenario something written to Solid-State Disc was saved should a power-down take place. Of course, a graceful power-down would write anything in RAM to disc, but unexpected ABENDs (abnormal endings) were difficult to handle, as data could and would potentially be lost. SSD has undergone significant changes in recent years, up until now, where NVMe is the current pinnacle, as moving that disc to the PCIe bus makes it closer to the processor rather than relying on a card and cable connection to that disc. So, latencies have been practically eliminated. On the side of RAM, recently non-volatile RAM has been introduced, giving that purging of data an alleviation. But, and of course there are always tradeoffs, the size and costs of these non-volatile RAM sticks has not really pushed the needle.

But, the scientists at Micron and Intel invented a technology called 3D-Crosspoint (3DXpoint) which actually stores data on the silicon in a different manner, leveraging layering or 3Dimensions to store those cells, and allowing for stacking of layers of silicon for the data. By this method, greater, faster and more resilient storage of data has been made possible. 3D is without a doubt the future of data storage on silicon. We’ve also seen additional efforts by Western Digital on 3D data storage. The tech is catching on, and with competition in the space, we can be confident that it’s here to stay.

So, Optane disc, announced and displayed a while back is here. But the promise of this kind of tech, and the real magic comes from the ability to build up this tech in the NV-Ram space. The announcement of Optane Memory (3D, Non-Volatile, and far larger than traditional methods) was finally shown to us at the #DataCentric event at which I was in attendance. With new Cascade Lake processors, the possibility of granting 4.5Tb of NVRam per memory socket means we’re going to be able to see a vast improvement on the function of a single server… Imagine, 112cores and terabytes of non-volatile RAM on a given server.

OptaneMemory

This is an Intel Optane 128Gb memory stick, as shown at the event.

I want to reiterate just how exciting to me this announcement is, and am really looking forward to configuring systems using this great new technology. To be clear, there were a number of really interesting announcements at this event. I plan on writing more about them as time becomes available.

 

 

 

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