Intel launches Optane, the go-between for memory and storage

The new memory format in the Intel Optane DC modules does what SSDs have been used for in the past, acting as a cache.

Intel launches Optane, the go-between for memory and storage
Intel

Intel formally introduced the Optane DC persistent memory modules late last week, an entirely new class of memory and storage technology designed to sit between storage and memory and provide expanded memory capacity and faster access to data.

Unlike SSDs, which plug into a PCI Express slot, Optane DC is built like a thick memory DIMM and plugs into the DIMM slots. Many server motherboards offer as many as eight DIMM slots per CPU, so some can be allocated to Optane and some to traditional memory.

That’s important because Optane serves as a cache of sorts, storing frequently accessed data in its memory rather than forcing the server to fetch it from a hard disk. So, server memory only has to access Optane memory, which is sitting right next to it, and not a storage array over Fibre Channel.

Lisa Spelman, vice president and general manager of Xeon products, said at the event and in a concurrent blog post that the new memory modules will ship to select customers later this year and will become generally available in 2019.

The modules will be available in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB capacities. However, they'll be compatible only with Intel's Xeon Scalable server processors, which is their latest generation based on the Skylake architecture.

“By expanding affordable system memory capacities [greater than 3 terabytes per CPU socket], end customers can use systems enabled with this new class of memory to better optimize their workloads by moving and maintaining larger amounts of data closer to the processor and minimizing the higher latency of fetching data from system storage. Intel’s persistent memory will be available in capacities up to 512GB per module,” she said in the post.

Optane memory is also persistent, like flash memory, so it can retain data even on a restart. Intel noted that with Optane DC persistent memory, a restart of a NoSQL in-memory database went from minutes to seconds compared to a DRAM-only cold restart.

A 20TB QLC SSD in the works?

There was an interesting bit of gossip out of the event. A writer for AnandTech spoke to an unnamed, loose-lipped partner who revealed that they were working on a 20TB QLC SSD. Intel and Micron recently announced the QLC brand of SSDs, which offer one-third more capacity as current SSDs with the same amount of memory.

The tradeoff of QLC drives is they are slower and have shorter lifespans, although that’s a relative term in comparing SSDs. The unnamed source said it was going to be in a 2.5-inch form factor, likely SATA. Since performance isn’t the issue with QLC, going SATA isn’t such a bad thing. It will still be worlds faster than a traditional hard drive and have higher capacity than any HDD on the market now. There is also the possibility the drive would use the M.2 format, which plugs directly into the motherboard and is about the size of a stick of gum.

Intel, not surprisingly, declined to comment.

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