Intel Cloud Day 2016 news and views

 A couple of weeks back I was at Intel Cloud Day 2016 with the rest of the TFD team. We listened to a number of presentations from Intel Management team mostly about how the IT world was changing and how they planned to help lead the transition to the new cloud world.

The view from Intel is that any organization with 1200 to 1500 servers has enough scale to do a private cloud deployment that would be more economical than using public cloud services. Intel’s new goal is to facilitate (private) 10,000 clouds, being deployed across the world.

In order to facilitate the next 10,000, Intel is working hard to introduce a number of new technologies and programs that they feel can make it happen. One that was discussed at the show was the new OpenStack scheduler based on Google’s open sourced, Kubernetes technologies which provides container management for Google’s own infrastructure but now supports the OpenStack framework.

Another way Intel is helping is by building a new 1000 (500 now) server cloud test lab in San Antonio, TX. Of course the servers will be use the latest Xeon chips from Intel (see below for more info on the latest chips). The other enabling technology discussed a lot at the show was software defined infrastructure (SDI) which applies across the data center, networking and storage.

According to Intel, security isn’t the number 1 concern holding back cloud deployments anymore. Nowadays it’s more the lack of skills that’s governing how quickly the enterprise moves to the cloud.

At the event, Intel talked about a couple of verticals that seemed to be ahead of the pack in adopting cloud services, namely, education and healthcare.  They also spent a lot of time talking about the new technologies they were introducing today.
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Next generation NVM, 3D XPoint from Intel + Micron

cross_point_image_for_photo_capsuleEarlier this week Intel-Micron announced (see webcast here and here)  a new, transistor-less NVM with 1000 time the speed (10µsec access time for NAND) of NAND [~10ns (nano-second) access times] and at 10X the density of DRAM (currently 16Gb/DRAM chip). They call the new technology 3D XPoint™ (cross-point) NVM (non-volatile memory).

In addition to the speed and density advantages, 3D XPoint NVM also doesn’t have the endurance problems associated with todays NAND. Intel and Micron say that it has 1000 the endurance of today’s NAND (MLC NAND endurance is ~3000 write (P/E) cycles).

At that 10X current DRAM density it’s roughly equivalent to todays MLC/TLC NAND capacities/chip. And at 1000 times the speed of NAND, it’s roughly equivalent in performance to DDR4 DRAM. Of course, because it’s non-volatile it should take much less power to use than current DRAM technology, no need for power refresh.

We have talked about the end of NAND before (see The end of NAND is here, maybe). If this is truly more scaleable than NAND it seems to me that the it does signal the end of NAND. It’s just a matter of time before endurance and/or density growth of NAND hits a wall and then 3D XPoint can do everything NAND can do but better, faster and more reliably.

3D XPoint technology

The technology comes from a dual layer design which is divided into columns and at the top and bottom of the columns are accessor connections in an orthogonal pattern that together form a grid to access a single bit of memory.  This also means that 3D Xpoint NVM can be read and written a bit at a time (rather than a “page” at a time with NAND) and doesn’t have to be initialized to 0 to be written like NAND.

The 3D nature of the new NVM comes from the fact that you can build up as many layers as you want of these structures to create more and more NVM cells. The microscopic pillar  between the two layers of wiring include a memory cell and a switch component which allows a bit of data to be accessed (via the switch) and stored/read (memory cell). In the photo above the yellow material is a switch and the green material is a memory cell.

A memory cell operates by a using a bulk property change of the material. Unlike DRAM (floating gates of electrons) or NAND (capacitors to hold memory values). As such it uses all of the material to hold a memory value which should allow 3D XPoint memory cells to scale downwards much better than NAND or DRAM.

Intel and Micron are calling the new 3D XPoint NVM storage AND memory. That is suitable for fast access, non-volatile data storage and non-volatile processor memory.

3D XPoint NVM chips in manufacturing today

First chips with the new technology are being manufactured today at Intel-Micron’s joint manufacturing fab in Idaho. The first chips will supply 128Gb of NVM and uses just two layers of 3D XPoint memory.

Intel and Micron will independently produce system products (read SSDs or NVM memory devices) with the new technology during 2016. They mentioned during the webcast that the technology is expected to be attached (as SSDs) to a PCIe bus and use NVMe as an interface to read and write it. Although if it’s used in a memory application, it might be better attached to the processor memory bus.

The expectation is that the 3D XPoint cost/bit will be somewhere in between NAND and DRAM, i.e. more expensive than NAND but less expensive than DRAM. It’s nice to be the only companies in the world with a new, better storage AND memory technology.


Over the last 10 years or so, SSDs (solid state devices) all used NAND technologies of one form or another, but after today SSDs can be made from NAND or 3D XPoint technology.

Some expected uses for the new NVM is in gaming applications (currently storage speed and memory constrained) and for in-memory databases (which are memory size constrained).  There was mention on the webcast of edge analytics as well.

Welcome to the dawn of a new age of computer storage AND memory.

Photo Credits: (c) 2015 Intel and Micron, from Intel’s 3D XPoint website

Initial impressions on Spring SNW/Santa Clara

I heard storage beers last nite was quite the party, sorry I couldn’t make it but I did end up at the HDS customer reception which was standing room only and provided all the food and drink I could consume.

Saw quite a lot of old friends too numerous to mention here but they know who they are.

As for technology on display there was some pretty impressive stuff.

Verident card (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.
Verident card (c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.

Lots of great technology on display there.

Virident tachIOn SSD

One product that caught my eye was from Virident, their tachIOn SSD. I called it a storage subsystem on a board.  I had never talked with them before but they have been around for a while using NOR storage but now are focused on NAND.

Their product is a fully RAIDed storage device using flash aware RAID 5 parity locations, their own wear leveling and other SSD control software and logic with replaceable NAND modules.

Playing with this device I felt like I was swapping drives of the future. Each NAND module stack has a separate controller and supports high parallelism.  Talking with Shridar Subramanian, VP of marketing, he said the product is capable of over 200K IOPS running a fully 70% read:30% write workload at full capacity.

They have a Capacitor backed DRAM buffer which is capable of uploading the memory buffer to NAND after a power failure. It plugs into a PCIe slot and uses less than 25W of power, in capacities of 300-800GB.  It requires a software driver, they currently only support Linux and VMware (a Linux varient) but Windows and other O/Ss are on the way

Other SSDs/NAND storage

Their story was a familair refrain throughout the floor, lots of SSD/NAND technology coming out, in various formfactors.  I saw one system using SSDs from Viking Modular Systems that fit into a DRAM DIMM slot and supported a number of SSDs behind a SAS like controller. Also requiring a SW driver.

(c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.
(c) 2011 Silverton Consulting, Inc.

Of course TMS, Fusion-IO, Micron, Pliant and others were touting their latest SSD/Nand based technology showing off their latest solutions and technology.   For some reason lots of SSD’s at this show.

Naturally, all the other storage vendors were there Dell, HDS, HP, EMC, NetApp and IBM. IBM was showing off Watson, their new AI engine that won at Jeopardy.

And then there was cloud, …

Cloud was a hot topic as well. Saw one guy in the corner I have talked about before StorSimple which is a cloud gateway provider.  They said they are starting to see some traction in the enterprise. Apparently enterprise are starting to adopt cloud – who knew?

Throw in a few storage caching devices, …

Then of course there was the data caching products which ranged from the relaunched DataRAM XcelASAN to Marvel’s new DragonFLY card.  DragonFLY provides a cache on a PCI-E card which DataRAM is a FC caching appliance, all pretty interesting.

… and what’s organic storage?

And finally, Scality came out of the shadows with what they are calling an organic object storage device.  The product reminded me of Bycast (now with NetApp) and Archivas (now with HDS) in that they had a RAIN architecture, with mirrored data in an object store interface.  I asked them what makes them different and Jerome Lecat, CEO said they are relentlessly focused on performance and claims they can retrieve an object in under 40msec.  My kind of product.  I think they deserve a deeper dive sometime later.


Probably missed a other  vendors but these are my initial impressions.  For some reason I felt right at home swapping NAND drive modules,…