On Wednesday, Intel announced the availability of its Optane DC Persistent Memory, in sizes up to 512GB per RAM module, according to a press release. While these RAM modules are pin-compatible, (mostly) drop-in replacements for DDR4 DIMMs, the high capacity—and ability to retain data when powered down—are properties of 3D XPoint memory developed in a joint venture between Intel and Micron.
Intel positions 3D XPoint as a technology somewhere between DRAM and NAND. In the release, the company claims that it has a better write endurance than NAND flash memory, which in practical terms is a requirement for attempting to use the technology for system RAM. 3D XPoint is also substantially more dense than DRAM, which is how Intel is able to cram 512GB into a single module.
While specific performance details and benchmarks are not yet available, there are a few practical caveats in using this technology. 3D XPoint is likely to have somewhat higher latency than DRAM. The Optane memory modules are only supported on Intel's next generation Xeon processors, so upgrading existing systems with these modules is unlikely, and using them on AMD EPYC systems or ARM-powered servers is implausible at best. A report at Anandtech indicates that the 512GB modules have 10 packages of 3D XPoint memory, suggesting that the DIMMs have 640GB onboard for "twice the error correction overhead of ECC DRAM modules."
SEE: Storage spotlight: SAN, NAS, tape, and all-flash arrays (Tech Pro Research)
Similarly, fully utilizing this technology is likely to require developers to optimize for this type of memory. Intel is offering cloud access to systems with the new memory modules for developers to adapt their software. According to Intel's application form, the test servers will be equipped with 192GB DRAM and a minimum of 1TB Optane DC memory. This also raises a question not covered in Intel's public statements about how traditional DRAM and Optane DIMMs interoperate on the same system.
Intel is touting the benefits of Optane for database operations, noting in the release that "for planned restarts of a NoSQL in-memory database using Aerospike Hybrid Memory Architecture, Intel Optane DC persistent memory provides a minutes-to-seconds restart speedup compared to DRAM-only cold restart." The release also noted that the new memory tier could be used to "enable cost-effective, large-capacity in-memory database solutions."
In general, it would be reasonable to consider Optane DIMMs as a hardware solution to render caching solutions such as memcached irrelevant—a particularly important factor, given the recent security issues found in that software.
This is not the first deployment of 3D XPoint technology. Intel's Optane-branded SSDs have been on the market for about a year. The Optane 900P and 905P series are available in PCIe HHHL configurations at 280GB, 480GB, and 960GB capacities, with the former two also available in 15mm height 2.5" U.2 drives.
Similarly, Intel's 800P and M10 family of drives are available in smaller capacities in a M.2 2280 form factor, though are somewhat more limited in capacity. Intel has also packaged Optane-powered cache drives for consumer devices in 32GB and 16GB configurations. Intel anticipates better performance in the Optane DC memory configuration, as the release noted that it operates without "incurring the latency penalty of going out to storage over the PCIe bus."
The DIMMs will be shipping to select customers later this year, with general availability expected in 2019.
Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Intel has announced the availability of Optane DC Persistent Memory, in sizes up to 512GB per RAM module.
- Intel is touting the benefits of Optane for database operations, particularly with NoSQL and Redis use cases.
- Special report: Turning big data into business insights (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Optane SSD fast enough to be used as memory extender: Intel (ZDNet)
- All-flash arrays: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Intel boosts class-leading speed with Optane SSD 905P drives (ZDNet)
- How 3D XPoint promises to reshape the data center (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.