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Intel Optane Expands Server Memory

June 26, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

Intel created a new tier in the memory-storage hierarchy by moving 3D XPoint from the I/O bus to the memory bus. The company is now sampling servers that put 3D XPoint memory on DRAM-style modules (DIMMs) code-named Apache Pass. For the broader industry, it’s an important step in delivering storage-class memory, a new class that combines persistence and near-DRAM performance. Although Intel isn’t alone in developing persistent memory, it should be first to enable server DIMMs.

The DIMMs, which Intel calls Optane DC persistent memory, are incompatible with existing servers. They require a new memory controller instantiated in next-generation Xeon Scalable processors code-named Cascade Lake. All data stored in the DIMMs is encrypted. The company is giving certain developers remote access to systems enabled with at least 1TB of persistent memory. It says it will ship 512GB DIMMs to selected customers this year, with broad availability following in 2019.

Apache Pass fills the gap between high-performance SSDs and DRAM—the latter offers about 2,000x lower read latency than the former. Intel’s stated goal is to deliver greater memory capacity, but it withheld the maximum configuration for Cascade Lake platforms. Multiple vendors offer nonvolatile DIMMs (NVDIMMs)—which combine DRAM and flash memory—but these products enable persistence without expanding capacity beyond what DRAM alone enables. Meanwhile, server operating systems have added support for nonvolatile memory, laying the software foundation for adoption of storage-class memory. Lacking important details including price, power, and endurance, however, it’s difficult to predict how quickly customers will adopt Apache Pass.

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