Smart Storage Systems is preparing to ship dual in-line memory modules (Dimms) fitted with flash memory in place of DRAM, bringing high-speed storage as close to the processor as possible in order to speed key enterprise applications.
Due to be available before the end of this year, Smart's UlltraDimm product line is being touted as a logical progression in using flash to speed storage and boost performance of critical applications in the data centre. It promises read speeds of 150,000 input/output operations per second (IOPS) with write latencies of under five microseconds, and capacities running to hundreds of gigabytes.
While flash has been used to put solid state drives (SSDs) in networked storage arrays, then in PCI Express (PCIe) accelerators inside the server chassis, plugging it into the memory bus places high-speed storage as close to the processor as it can get, Smart Storage president John Scaramuzzo told V3.
"By going to the PCIe bus with flash, vendors like Fusion-io move down the latency curve from hundreds of microseconds to tens of microseconds, but there is still a significant variation of top of that because PCIe is a general purpose with multiple devices on it like graphics and other host bus adapters (HBAs)," he said.
By connecting directly to the memory bus, UlltraDimm eliminates contention and cuts latency as low as possible, Scaramuzzo claimed.
"We call it the ‘final frontier' of latency, because there is really no other way to get lower latency than directly connecting to the memory bus," he said.
The UlltraDimm itself is based on the Memory Channel Storage (MCS) technology unveiled at the end of last month by Diablo Technologies. This provides the DDR3 to SSD controller and firmware, while Smart Storage adds its SSD controller and some flash memory to produce the end product.
Another key advantage of this architecture is that performance scales linearly as you add more UlltraDimms, according to Scaramuzzo.
Modern servers may also have as many as 18 Dimm slots, most of which are vacant, while just a few drive bays or PCIe slots are typically available for expanding storage.
To take advantage of UlltraDimms, users need to make a small modification to their server Bios firmware to stop the system from seeing the Dimms as memory.
After this, Smart Storage provides two drivers, one which allows the system to see any installed UlltraDimms as high-speed block storage, while the other treats them as non-volatile memory.
The latter scenario will enable customers to use UlltraDimms for in-memory compute applications, such as databases, Scaramuzzo said.
"If you're using DRAM for in-memory compute, one of the issues is that you have to do a checkpoint [snapshot in case of failure]. If you replace the majority of the memory where you're doing the compute cycles with flash, it's fast enough but it doesn't require the checkpoints and it's a lot more cost effective," he explained.
The first UlltraDimms are set to be available in 200GB and 400GB capacities, built using 19nm MLC flash chips, but pricing has yet to be disclosed. However, Scaramuzzo said the pricing would be competitive, at "dollars per gigabyte rather than the tens of dollars per gigabyte for SSD".
Prototypes and samples are with early customers now, and the UlltraDimm technology will be demonstrated at the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara later this month.
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