Meet Optane: Intel Releases First SSDs With 3D XPoint Memory Tech

Intel on Sunday unveiled new flash storage devices based on its Optane memory technology designed to bridge the gap between high-performance DRAM and lower-cost NAND memory.

The first commercially-available application of Optane technology, the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X, is scheduled for broad availability starting sometime in the second half of 2017.

It is a technology that Intel has had in development for about a decade, said James Myers, the vendor's director of NVM (non-volatile memory) solutions architecture.

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"It's the most responsive data center technology in the world," Myers said.

Optane technology stems from the joint development of the 3D XPoint memory technology by Intel and partner Micron Technology. 3D XPoint memory is a non-volatile memory that fits between higher-performance but expensive DRAM memory and the lower-cost ubiquitous NAND technologies common in SSDs and all-flash storage systems.

The Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X will be available in both AIC (add-in card) and U.2 form factors. The first unit will be a 375GB AIC drive, which is available in limited quantities. Intel in the second quarter plans to release 750GB AIC and 375GB U.2 models, followed by 1.5TB AIC and 750-GB and 1.5TB U.2 models in the second half of the year.

Meyers said Optane offers five to eight times the performance of NAND SSDs at low queue depths, with up to 60 times better latency a 99 percent quality of service. Optane also has a response time of up to 40 times faster than NAN under random write workloads, and a consistent sub-30-microsecond response time under load, he said.

On the endurance front, Optane is rated for 30 drive writes per day, or about 2.8 times the number of terabytes compared to NAND-based SSDs, Meyers said. "We believe that should meet all the endurance requirements for storage and memory," he said.

Intel sees two primary use cases for Optane memory-based SSDs.

The first is as fast storage and cache storage. Meyers said customers can Optane SSDs as extra high-performance primary storage or use one or more Optane SSDs as a high-performance cache in front of NAND SSDs.

The second use case is extended memory. In this case, Optane SSDs can be used to either replace part of the more expensive DRAM in servers to reduce cost or as a way to expand a server's memory beyond the DRAM for applications requiring large amounts of memory.

For example, Myers said, a cloud service provider could combine Optane SSDs with NAND SSDs to charge different prices for services based on required application performance.

Starting Sunday, Intel is also providing its new Intel Memory Drive Technology software that merges Optane and DRAM capacity into a pooled memory device in Intel Xeon-based servers, Meyers said.

Intel is serious about the potential for its Optane technology, said Dominic Daninger, vice president of engineering at Northern Computer Technologies, a Burnsville, Minn.-based custom system builder with a focus on high-performance computing and enterprise solutions.

"We already see Optane support in Skylake processor-based systems from Supermicro," Daninger told CRN. "You know it's coming full-bore when Supermicro has it."

Daninger said he expects the early adoption of Optane in the high-performance computing market, especially for use in checkpointing files.

"If hundreds of thousands of nodes are working on a problem, high-performance computing uses checkpointing to restart a process on another node is one node goes down," he said. "In the high performance computing world, we need to save and retrieve checkpointing files fast. Before, this might require expensive distributed parallel architectures. Customers often look at the cost of distributed parallel and are turned off."

A large portion of Nor-Tech's clients are users of small-sized to medium-sized high-performance computing solutions, while others may have a single simulation that can run months at a time, Daninger said. "Optane will come on strong for such customers," he said.