Reimagining Memory and Storage in the Data Center

Innovative new technologies from Intel are transforming the memory and storage hierarchy.

Key Takeaways

  • The gap between high-performing volatile DRAM and lower-performing but affordable NAND inhibits data center transformations.

  • Intel® Optane™ technology is a new, non-NAND, non-volatile storage media that fills the cost/capacity gap with a new tier.

  • Intel® Optane™ persistent memory, Intel® Optane™ SSDs, and Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs are new data tier enablers.

  • The combination of Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs and Intel® Optane™ technology, offer flexibility to match many workloads.

  • The Intel’s 3D NAND “ruler” form factor features an efficient thermal design, high capacity, and simpler manageability.



High Stakes in the Data Center

Mountains of data promise valuable insights and innovation for businesses that rethink and redesign their system architectures. But companies that don’t re-architect might find themselves scrambling just to keep from being buried in the avalanche of data.

The problem is not just in storing raw data, though. For businesses to stay competitive, they need to quickly and cost-effectively access and process all that data for business insights, research, artificial intelligence (AI), and other uses. Both memory and storage are required to enable this level of processing, and companies struggle to balance high costs against limited capacities and performance constraints.

The challenge is even more daunting because different types of memory and storage are required for different workloads. Furthermore, multiple technologies might be used together to achieve the optimal tradeoff in cost versus performance.

Intel is addressing these challenges with new memory and storage technologies that empower businesses to reimagine their data center architectures.

Gaps in the Memory/Storage Hierarchy

Historically, memory and storage solutions have been limited by density, performance, and cost. This limitation has been felt across all kinds of organizations, from retail to government to healthcare to finance. For example, cloud service providers (CSPs) can struggle to meet service level agreements (SLAs) as data loads increase. Financial-services companies can run up against capacity and performance limits for rapidly processing high volumes of transactions. And enterprise businesses can’t keep pace with in-memory analytics needs stemming from customer, inventory, social media, and Internet of Things (IoT) data—primarily due to the high costs and limited capacity of dynamic RAM (DRAM).

To manage data efficiently and effectively, businesses need to determine which infrastructure components best match their needs and budgets. That’s no easy task because each technology in the hierarchy has its strengths and weaknesses:

  • DRAM is great for performance, but it’s expensive, volatile, and has limited scalability.
  • Flash storage (NAND) is non-volatile and less expensive than DRAM, but it lacks DRAM’s performance.
  • Spinning hard-disk drives (HDDs) provide massive storage at the lowest price, but physical discs bring well-understood total cost of ownership (TCO) issues around reliability, physical space requirements, cooling, and power.

Collectively, these traditional storage options have left significant gaps in the memory and storage continuum in the data center, thus limiting the performance of applications. Ever-increasing amounts of data, and the need to access more of it quickly, have further magnified the problem.

In particular, two memory and storage gaps stand out for organizations trying to transform their data centers:

  • Between costly, low-capacity DRAM and more affordable NAND-based solid-state drives (SSDs).
  • Between slower NAND SSDs and lower-cost, but less reliable, HDDs.

Organizations have not had viable options that balance cost, capacity, and performance to bridge those gaps—until now (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The traditional memory and storage continuum leaves large gaps in capacity, cost, and performance.

Closing the Gaps with Intel® Technologies

Intel eliminates data center memory and storage gaps with solutions designed to provide high performance, capacity, and reliability. These solutions deliver low latency and greater operational value than traditional options. Three product families in particular are designed to close cost and performance gaps in the data center with flexibility for new data tiers:

  • Intel® Optane™ persistent memory represents a new class of memory and storage technology that offers high capacity, affordability, and persistence. It allows organizations to maintain larger amounts of data closer to the processor, so workloads and services can be optimized to reduce latencies and enhance performance.
  • Intel® Optane™ SSDs combine attributes of memory and storage with high throughput, low latency, high quality-of-service (QoS), and high endurance.
  • Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs, such as the Intel® SSD D5-P4320, offer the highest Peripheral Component Interconnect Express* (PCIe*) data-volume density on the market at a price that makes them ideal HDD replacements for storing less frequently accessed data.

These innovative products let you reimagine data center configurations to handle modern workloads and keep your business competitive. Each product is described in detail below, with real-world examples of the performance, capacity, and cost benefits they provide.

Intel® Optane™ Technology Creates a New Tier in the Data Hierarchy

Businesses must rethink solutions in previously unimagined ways, adapting to new technologies and evolving to meet their clients’ needs. Intel® Optane™ technology is a new, non-volatile storage option based on Intel® 3D XPoint™ technology that modernizes the existing data center architecture with a new tier in the memory and storage hierarchy, filling the gap between high-performing volatile memory and lower-performing, but affordable, NAND storage. Intel® Optane™ technology is unique in its combination of low latency, high quality of service (QoS), high endurance, and high throughput.

Figure 2. Intel® Optane™ technology combines the performance benefits of DRAM with the capacity benefits of NAND SSDs.

Intel® Optane™ technology is ideal for handling “working data”: data that needs to be close to the CPU for rapid access. Working data is about getting much faster access to much more data for real-time analytics, financial transactions, flight reservations, and other use cases that require predictably fast read-response times—when average response times are not good enough. In working data, predictable and consistent performance are important even from the first requests.

Both Intel® Optane™ persistent memory and Intel® Optane™ SSDs are built on Intel® Optane™ technology. But, as described below, each has a different form factor, and they can be used separately or together in the data center to offer innovative new memory and storage options for businesses.

Intel® Optane™ Persistent Memory Lets You Extend or Displace Costly DRAM

Intel® Optane™ persistent memory is an industry-disrupting product that fills the gap between DRAM and Intel® Optane™ SSDs. For companies that rely on in-memory processing of data, Intel® Optane™ persistent memory opens the door to accessing much higher quantities of “hot” data for AI, analytics, high performance computing (HPC), and other uses.

Unlike traditional DRAM, Intel® Optane™ persistent memory combines high density, affordability, and persistence. By expanding affordable system memory capacities (greater than 3 TB per CPU socket), businesses can better optimize their data center workloads by moving larger amounts of data closer to the processor and minimizing the higher latency of accessing data from traditional non-volatile system storage.

Intel® Optane™ persistent memory will be widely available in 2019, with the release of the next-generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable platform.

Figure 3. Intel® Optane™ persistent memory module

The Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X Tackles Working Data in the Data Center

Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X drives look like standard SSDs, but because they are built on Intel® Optane™ technology, they are not NAND-based. The unique architecture of the Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X provides breakthrough performance that is both faster and more consistent than NAND-based SSDs. NAND-based drives typically have fast read times but slow write times—and even slower write times under the stress of high-frequency operations. In contrast, Intel® Optane™ SSDs are architected to perform writes at the byte- or page-level for faster and much more predictable performance, with more balanced read and write performance, and with no need for garbage collection.

The Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X maintains consistent read-response times regardless of the write throughput applied to the drive. The graph in Figure 4 shows just how much lower the latency of an Intel® Optane™ SSD is compared to a current generation Intel® 3D NAND SSD, especially under the pressure of increasing random-write operations. Unlike NAND-based SSDs, the latency of Intel® Optane™ SSDs remains consistently low for all write requests.1

Figure 4. The Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X provides consistently low latency compared to an Intel® 3D NAND SSD1.

The combination of low, consistent latency and high endurance allows Intel® Optane™ SSDs to function much more efficiently as caching devices than NAND-based solutions.

A study from Evaluator Group demonstrated the impact of replacing an all-NAND-flash write caching and storage solution with Intel® Optane™ SSDs in the caching layer. Testing found that a system built on Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, using Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X drives for the caching layer, delivered up to 3x better price/performance levels than previous-generation systems and storage media, as measured by the IOmark-VM* benchmark.2

The Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X also provides much greater endurance than NAND-based drives. A comparison of two currently shipping drives, for example, shows up to 60 drive writes per day (DWPD) for the Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X compared to just 3 DWPD for the NAND-based Intel® SSD P4600.3 This makes Intel® Optane™ SSDs much more durable in high-traffic caching environments.

Intel® Optane™ persistent memory can also be combined with Intel® Optane™ SSDs to create an entirely new, flexible, memory-like tier, as shown in Figure 5. Valuable data traditionally trapped in slower NAND storage can be quickly accessed and acted upon.

Figure 5. Intel® Optane™ persistent memory can be combined with Intel® Optane™ SSDs to create a whole new tier for handling hot working data and warm capacity data for in-memory analytics (red = “hot” data, yellow = “warm” data, and blue = “cold” data).

Optimize Software to Take Advantage of Intel® Optane™ Technology Performance

Significant improvements in performance can be achieved simply by adding Intel® Optane™ SSDs to an existing data center infrastructure, but software optimizations can generate even greater performance results for applications running on Intel® Optane™ technology. Open source software, in particular, matches well with Intel® Optane™ SSDs because developers can modify applications to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X.

At Oracle, for example, a performance architect optimized MySQL* for the Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X, which resulted in a 5x performance improvement on heavy input/output (I/O)-bound workloads. The Oracle architect also achieved 1 million reads from a single Intel® Optane™ SSD.4

In another example, optimizations to Direct I/O* demonstrated up to 48 percent greater efficiency in Java 10* compared to Buffered I/O*.5 These optimizations have significant implications for organizations that run AI workloads or databases that rely on Java, such as Cassandra* or Apache HBase*.

Software architects can use existing tools and development kits to optimize performance for Intel® Optane™ technology. Use the following resources from Intel to get started:

Extend Memory with Intel® Memory Drive Technology

Intel® Optane™ SSDs can also be configured as extended memory by using Intel® Memory Drive Technology. Intel® Memory Drive Technology transparently integrates an SSD into the memory subsystem and makes it appear like DRAM, with no changes required to the operating system or applications. Intel® Memory Drive Technology can be used to displace a portion of DRAM and reduce overall memory cost, or to grow the memory pool beyond DRAM capacities when large system memory capacities are required.

In fact, Apache Spark* performance is 5x faster by adding Intel® Memory Drive Technology software with an Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X.4

Reduce the Capacity Storage Gap with Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs

As NAND technology increases in efficiency and declines in price, the need for mechanical drives continues to decline. The latest breakthrough, Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs, might relegate spinning discs to only the coldest of data-storage scenarios.

Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs are designed to provide flash reliability at higher densities and an affordable price point. These benefits help remove barriers to replacing traditional HDDs, which are typically slower, less reliable, more power hungry, require more cooling, and take up a larger data footprint compared to flash drives.

Figure 6. By converting from HDDs to Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs, businesses can achieve significant savings in power, cooling, and service, with a smaller data center footprint6 7.

Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs can be combined with Intel® Optane™ technology to accelerate the speed of frequently accessed data, while using the price and capacity benefits of flash technology over HDDs for massive capacity storage. That lets organizations fill the storage cost/capacity gap between Intel® Optane™ SSDs and HDDs. Moreover, because Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs offer high reliability with affordability, many organizations can use them to replace HDDs.

Consolidate Data with Innovative New Form Factors from Intel

Intel is also closing the storage cost/capacity gap with innovative new form factors. Winner of a Gold International Design Excellence Award in 2018, Intel’s 3D NAND “ruler” form factor for SSDs improves density, manageability, and serviceability in tandem with an efficient thermal design that is revolutionizing server architecture.

Because of the unique shape and characteristics of the drive, based on EDSFF, vendors like Supermicro are able to fit 32 Intel “ruler” drives at 32 TB each into a single 1U server, providing up to one petabyte of data per server.8

Reimagine Data Center Storage

Intel® technologies enable modern businesses to rapidly and flexibly store, process, and manage massive quantities of data for analytics, AI, HPC, and other workloads by filling the memory and storage gaps with a complete range of options—from Intel® Optane™ persistent memory and the Intel® Optane™ SSD P4800X to Intel® QLC 3D NAND SSDs and high-capacity “ruler” form factor drives.

Together, Intel storage technologies and products offer data center architects flexibility to match performance, capacity, reliability, and affordability to their business applications and workloads. It’s time to reimagine memory and storage with Intel® Optane™ technology and Intel® QLC 3D NAND technology.

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