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Intel claims storage speed record with first large-capacity Optane SSD

Agam Shah | March 20, 2017
The Optane DC P4800X SSD has 375GB of storage and is priced at US$1,520.

Optane is more expensive and still being developed, and joins the ranks of other technologies like MRAM (magnetoresistive RAM) and RRAM (resistive RAM) trying to unseat flash.

Intel took a long time to develop large-capacity Optane SSDs, and there is some concern about the drive's durability. The P4800X has a five-year warranty, but it remains to be seen how long the drive will last.

Optane SSDs will speed up data movement among servers in data centers, said James Myers, director for NVM Solutions Architecture at Intel's Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group.

Storage is a big bottleneck, and the Optane SSDs will reduce latency. That will improve the productivity of servers, and will help in applications like analytics, which deal with large data sets. Optane could be used for for caching or long-term or short-term storage.

Optane SSDs could also be used to expand memory capacity in servers by mimicking DRAM with the help of a hypervisor, Myers said. To make this happen, Intel will sell software called Memory Drive for Optane drives. This feature will only work on servers with Intel's upcoming Xeon chips based on the Skylake architecture, and won't work with AMD chips.

Applications that will benefit from Optane include MySQL and Memcached, which are popular with cloud providers. Data movement in servers run by companies like Facebook and Google is fast to ensure instant responses to social media or search requests.

Intel's Myers also saw the storage fitting into hyperconverged environments, in which Optane is closer to the CPU, or in an array. Optane isn't a particularly good fit for typical networked storage arrays like EMC's EqualLogic, which are extremely popular, but Myers is pinning hopes on companies moving to hyperconverged infrastructures.

Intel estimated that two servers with P4800X drives could provide 10 times more MySQL transactions than with P3700 SSDs. It would also result in a 91 percent reduction in cost per transaction.

But there's a heavy cost involved in changing the data-center infrastructure to fit the superfast Optane drives. In the long run, the Optane drives may be beneficial in speeding up database, cloud and machine-learning applications, but switching over to a hyperconverged environment could call for wholesale changes in server hardware, virtualization environment, and organization of storage in data centers.

Also, Optane SSDs don't play well in in-memory applications like SAP HANA. In theory, the Memory Drive feature could be used so the Optane SSDs mimic DRAM, which can ultimately be used by in-memory applications. Intel is in talks with major in-memory application providers to build usage of Optane SSDs, Myers said.

Companies are increasingly backing Optane, Myers said. Facebook has been trying out Optane for more than a year, but hasn't reported results. IBM has incorporated Optane storage in its Bluemix cloud service, but hasn't talked about benchmarks.


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