Dell EMC PowerMax adds NVMe over fabric, doubles down on dual port Intel Optane drives

Dell's use of Optane SSDs in their high-end PowerMax line could be the start of wider industry enthusiasm, as Intel is packaging Optane in more flexible ways for the enterprise.

What all-flash storage means for the future of enterprise IT At the 2017 Dell EMC World conference, midrange storage leader Craig Bernero explained how the media transition to all-flash arrays will impact businesses.

Dell EMC announced upgrades to their PowerMax storage solution, adding NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) to support for dual-port Intel Optane SSDs—which were quietly announced for the PowerMax portfolio in April—as well as integrations with VMware, Ansible, and Kubernetes.

Dell touts the PowerMax as being "first-to-market with Storage Class Memory (SCM) as true persistent storage," with support for 32Gb NVMe-oF on Fibre channel. Dell relies on a proprietary AI/ML-powered system for data placement, with this algorithm, hot data is moved onto Optane SSDs, which are intended to be backed either with disk or TLC/QLC flash. The upgrades are intended to double peak bandwidth to 350 GB/sec, 15M IOPS (a 50% improvement), and decrease latency by 50%.

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The SCM market generates a great deal of interest in enterprise computing, though Intel has apparently struggled to convert that interest into sales—Intel's Optane DC Persistent Memory (otherwise known as Apache Pass DIMMs) have failed to move particularly strongly, according to SemiAccurate, with the 128 GB DIMM launching around $577, and receiving three-digit price cuts twice, "ending up in the mid-$300," by the first week of June. SemiAccurate also contends the pricing crunch is unrelated to the DRAM price crash, per Intel's investor Q&A in May.

Granted, Optane DIMMs are quite a different configuration than Optane as SCM, the existence of tiered memory requires some modest re-architecturing of applications, and is more useful for in-memory database projects such as Redis. It was, however, one of Intel's primary use cases for Optane.

Optane in a dual-port SSD configuration—the Intel Optane SSD DC D4800X—was quietly launched in April alongside an avalanche of other product announcements. Dual-port storage is more of a known quantity for hyperscalers, and this could be a packaging of Intel's Optane technology that the enterprise is more enthusiastic about. 

Intel's erstwhile co-developer and apparent competitor Micron holds a trademark for QuantX, their brand name for 3D XPoint—the same stuff behind Optane. Micron has yet to offer QuantX products, and potentially will hold off until the second generation of 3D XPoint technology is available, likely late next year.

Meanwhile, Toshiba—pending a rebranding to Kioxia America in October—is entering the SCM market with the introduction of XL-FLASH SLC, which is architecturally more akin to a high speed, super-dense, single-level cell NAND—preserving nonvolatile properties and higher densities inherent to NAND, but with latency and endurance closer to traditional DRAM. Industry enthusiasm for Toshiba's solution as a relatively tried-and-true solution may be higher than 3D XPoint, which was largely built from scratch (with a passing resemblance to ReRAM).

For more, check out "Fewer than one third of cloud users back up their own application data" and "VMware's Pivotal purchase looks toward a containerized, not virtualized, future" on TechRepublic.

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