Intel Launches Line Of Super-Fast Optane SSD Cards

Data Storage

The Optane memory technology is significantly faster than NAND flash, with features aimed to please cloud operators

Intel has announced its first product based on the new Optane memory technology, a 375GB solid-state drive (SSD) on a PCIe card aimed at applications requiring low latency and high endurance.

Optane, first announced in 2015, is based on the 3D XPoint technology co-developed by Intel and Micron, a new type of persistent solid state memory that records data using changes in resistance – although details on exactly how it works remain in short supply.

Intel chip

Low latency

With the first Optane products now shipping, Intel is playing up the technology’s high responsiveness, with a latency much lower than that of the NAND flash, upon which most SSDs are currently based.

While standard SSDs can typically sustain high rates of input/output operations per second (IOPS) only with a high queue depth – meaning the server is constantly bombarded with requests – Intel says its Optane drives can achieve similar figures with low queue depths.

That could be appealing for data centre operators such as cloud services providers, which Intel says typically see low queues most of the time in the real world. Meanwhile, the drives continue to deliver low latency even under heavy loads, according to Intel.

The non-destructive writes used by Optane mean data can be safely overwritten much more frequently than is the case with typical SSDs – 30 times per day, compared to a typical 0.5 to 10 times, Intel says, arguing such characteristics make Optane a good fit for applications such as caching and database servers.

347846-artificial-intelligence-684x250Memory extension

The company has also developed a technique called Memory Drive Technology that allows a system to make use of PCIe SSDs to extend its usable random-access memory (RAM).

The feature requires using Intel’s own chipset and Xeon processors, along with a middleware layer that boots before the operating system and presents DRAM and SSD resources to the operating system and applications as a single pool of memory.

Optane offers performance slightly poorer than DRAM for most workloads, but at a substantially lower cost and somewhat better power consumption, according to Intel.

Memory Drive could also mean a significant boost in the maximum addressable RAM for workloads that benefit from exceptionally large memory pools, with a two-socket Xeon system seeing a boost from 3TB of RAM to 24TB of Optane memory and a four-socket Xeon system extended from 12TB of RAM to 48TB of Optane.

In theory, Memory Drive could benefit in-memory applications such as SAP HANA, but Intel said it is currently in talks with SAP and other in-memory providers on ensuring those applications work properly with the technology.

The Optane SSD DC P4800X is available in limited quantities beginning on Sunday, for $1,520 (£1,227), with general availability scheduled for the second half of this year.

Intel is also planning to release 750GB and 1.5TB PCIe models, as well as 375GB, 750GB and 1.5TB U.2 parts over the course of this year.

Intel said it plans to offer Optane in the DIMM form factor next year.

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