| leading the way to the new
memory channel SSDs
are you ready to
rethink enterprise DRAM architecture?
the big SSD memory architecture ideas in 2016?
where are we
heading with memory intensive systems and software?
for fading out DRAM in the virtual memory slider mix
DIMM wars in SSD servers
how significant is Diablo's Memory1 by
editor - StorageSearch.com
- August 13, 2015
for the enterprise data
|Diablo has launched
an aggressive assault on the enterprise server RAM market with the launch of
a new DRAM compatible emulation memory module (upto 256GB each) called "Memory1" (faqs) which can
functionally and competitively replace upto 90% of
DDR-4 DRAM - with higher
density, lower cost flash.
Here's some of what Diablo said in its
"The revolutionary technology packs 4x the
capacity of the largest DRAM modules, delivering greater capability on fewer
servers and lowering datacenter costs by up to 70%.
system memory slots that now hold 128 or 384 gigabytes of DRAM memory can house
up to 4TB of Memory1 and process data-intensive applications that were
previously beyond reach. These efficiencies are driven by Diablos breakthrough
in memory design, which replaces expensive DRAM with low cost, high capacity
flash, while delivering the performance an enterprise demands.
is deployed into standard DDR4 DIMM slots and is compatible with standard
motherboards, servers, operating systems and applications. Memory1 is shipping
now to select customers and will be broadly available this fall."
brings the low cost and high capacity of flash to large-scale enterprise and
datacenter customers. It is ideal for environments that require large memory
footprints per server for workloads, such as big data analytics and complex Web
applications. The average Memory1 use case enables a 4 to 1 server reduction,
and one customer use case requires 90% fewer servers. Diablo will initially
focus on delivering Memory1 to cloud and hyperscale datacenters, which stand to
see significant economic benefits because of their scale."
|Editor's comments:- I spoke to Diablo
about Memory1 in July - but I wasn't able to write about it before due to their
launch date which was while I was on vacation. |
But as I said to
Diablo - when you've got a technology story like this - likely to have a big
history - a few days or weeks delay in the retelling of the story don't
My gut feel assessment is this.
Memory1 is the most significant development in the enterprise flash
market in the past 3 years (since the widespread impact of
and DSP controller technology) and Diablo's Memory1 is the most
significant development in the enterprise application server market in the past
8 years (since the
most enterprise SSD installed capacity to flash away from RAM and - in
particular - the launch of the first flash based PCIe SSDs by
But let me clarify something important.
Memory1 is not an
Memory1 is a volatile memory which replaces DRAM with a
You'll still need some real DRAM in your system. Diablo
currently recommends a ratio of no more than 10 to 1 (Memory1 to RAM). And there
are OS limitations too. Currently support is limited to Linux although there are
plans to support other major platforms too.
the big question - how
does flash replace RAM?
Diablo didn't want to say much about how
they use the flash.
Diablo told me - "We are not disclosing the
flash technology, only that we are using widely available NAND flash.
We employ several technologies to ensure endurance, an example is that we
deliver volatile storage, which is less taxing on the media than persistent
Diablo declined to reveal how much
they use inside the flash array. But they did answer my question about warranty
- 3 years.
A year later I learned the answers and published them
here - SSD
aspects of Diablo's Memory1 and DMX - which explains how their DRAM
controller and flash controller can reliably replace DRAM with a
conventionally rated DWPD
This bring us back to the question.
is Enterprise DRAM?
a top level - DRAM - seen from the applications server point of view -
has complex and changing latency characteristics.
This is because
traditionally it is the sum effect of a bunch of different latencies (as
experienced by the software) due to a hierarchy of latencies which include:-
- memory caches on the CPU chip,
- caches external to the CPU chips,
- real DRAM (the kind of modules you see plugged into the motherboard) and
You've known all that stuff since forever. But changes have
- emulated DRAM (the virtual memory which gets swapped in and out of HDDs and
In the past year or so in articles which I have collected in
are you ready to
rethink enterprise DRAM architecture? - it's been clear that
researchers have been evaluating the memory and server experience and have
realized that - depending on the application software - it's possible to get
similar performance effects to traditional DRAM and CPU sets in other ways.
2 challenges for the DRAM market come from 2 factors:-
- DRAM latency at the hardware level (as seen by local CPUs) is worse than it
was in the year 2000.
There are many reasons for this - the chief
being that enterprise memory systems have been optimized for density and cost
rather than speed. And the growing complexity of multi processor cache designs
means that worse case latencies are much longer than you might think. See more
here - latency
loving reasons for fading out DRAM in the virtual memory slider mix.
operates in the DRAM interface so theoretically can provide better performance
than PCIe SSD based flash memory emulators.
- DRAM latency - as seen by applications - is really the "virtual
memory" latency which arises from the cumulative impact of several
different system behaviors. These include upstream storage, cache properties
and the software stacks. In effect all legacy applications have been "trained"
during the past decade or so to operate with a DRAM latency which has
statistical latency properties which are good enough rather than guaranteed.
During the first 5 years or so of the PCIe SSD market it became clear
that making storage latency faster (than the HDD models assumed in rotating
storage architecture) could enable trade offs in memory size in which DRAM
could be replaced by flash within certain operating bands and achieve
similar application performance at much lower operating costs.
What we've got here is a
new memory type - which will not only take business away from traditional DRAM
and CPUs (as a special case extrapolation of the
reasons which I told you about in 2003) but Memory1 will also take business away
from that 3D PCM memory which
Micron have been
about too - for the simple reason that flash is a cheap and more mature
This new technology from Diablo is more significant than
what we had been led to expect from their previews a year ago.
doesn't replace memory
channel SSDs or hybrid
DIMMs - it's a new product type - flash as RAM - which could lead to a
market as significant in revenue as the whole
PCIe SSD market.
guessing then that Diablo will stay the #1 most
researched company in
the SSD ecosystem for a while as a result.
As I said above - many other SSD companies have
been eyeing exactly the same applications problems which Diablo's Memory1 is
designed to satisfy:- lowering the cost of server populations which rely on
access to extreme amounts of low latency RAM in order to fulfill their business
(...Later:- You can see a growing double digit list of
competitors in the sidebar article on the right.)
While there are
currently no exact form factor matches to Memory1 which give similar memory
density - there are other ways to get similar results. And if you regard the
server box as the socket footprint (which it really is - if you're planning to
buy 10K or 100K servers) then DIMM socket compatibility - while convenient - is
My preliminary list of potential hot competitors in the
Diablo Memory1 market space goes like this.
Flash based solutions.
In the current state of the memory market - nand flash is the cost leader.
Alternative approaches include:-
- software which remaps big RAM memory into flash SSDs.
operates with a wide range of SSD interfaces - so users have a lot of freedom to
optimize their latency / cost profile. At the extreme limits Memory1 may be
faster in latency terms than most PCIe SSDs - but my guess is that some kind of
future ioDrive like product (possibly optimized to strip away non volatility)
would give very similar performance.
SSD software companies
which until recently have been in stealth mode are also coming into the latency
lowering flash market.
processing - combined with PCIe SSD platform.
Companies which have
been talking about this since last year include:-
And earlier this year further validation of the concept came from
at MIT who showed that flash can come close to RAM rich server performance
by using clunky app-specific FPGAs combined with flash.
non flash / nvm solutions
- Netlist? - This
company which was embroiled for over a year in legal actions aimed at Diablo's
first product - the
MCS SSDs -
is one of several in the
hybrid DIMM market
which might make a future pitch in this market. Having said that there's a world
of difference between these DIMM compatible RAM SSDs and Memory1 - where the
RAM which is used is actually in another socket supplied by someone else. Other
companies in this category include
Micron. But due to the
market risks of shooting its other products in the foot I think Micron will
prefer to position its response to this application in different ways first
(with higher priced solutions).
These will probably cost more than the flash based competitors.
fabric / flash / nvm alternatives
- Already mentioned above - high density 3D PCM from
Micron. Details at the
present time are sketchy. But it's reasonable to assume this will initially be
offered at much higher cost than flash solutions - because it's a new
technology and unlike Memory1 - a key characteristic it offers is non
contender which converges with all the technologies above is
Express over RDMA includes elements of PCIe fabric but interoperate the
company's low density RAM SSD and flash SSD products.
these can be combined to build low cost low latency fabrics for small server
clusters at a starting price point probably below PLX and much lower (scale)
these fabric solutions enable users to extend the DRAM space at low
microsecond latencies outside the rack rather enabling more RAM in the same
rack. But I think they could also be viable technology launchpads for future
PCIe connected flash memory similar to Diablo's Memory1.
how fast can your SSD
aspects of SSD
design - processors used in SSDs
SSDserver rank -
everything you need to know in a single number
|no one owns
the SSD DIMM wars market|
|Although Diablo was the first to ship
high capacity products in in the DIMM SSD / SCM (storage class memory)
accelerator market - delays due to legal wranglings delayed adoption by over a
year - which enabled competitors to grab attention for "soon to be"
similar alternatives. By the close of
2015 - 9
companies had announced significant product plans in this market. |
Q3 2016 - over 20
companies were known to be working on DIMM wars related products and
|the road to DIMM wars|
|DIMM wars in SSD servers is closely related to
several multi-year technology themes in the SSD accelerator market. |
perspective it can be viewed as being the successor to 2 earlier centers of
focus in the modern era of SSDs which can be summarized in these broad
- 1999 to 2007 - the dominant focus and center of gravity was
FC SAN SSD accelerators.
That was the pragmatic place for SSD accelerator leaders to focus -
because it was relatively easy to integrate in legacy installations which had
been conceived by users with pre-SSD era thinking.
Furthermore FC SAN
users - as a market - were representatitive of a user base which was focused on
performance and which had more
money and technical
resources to engineer systems which were performance oriented than other
segments in the storage market.
That period was especially complex for
users because it overlapped with the
the enterprise SSD market from dominance by
RAM SSDs to
flash based SSDs - which
introduced many technology signals to the market which were easily capable of
being misinterpreted by vendors and users alike - due to the fact that in the
previous 2 decades there had been relatively
technology changes in the enterprise server market.
complicating factors were that FC SAN SSD accelerators were being marketed by
small vendors directly to
SSD illiterate end
users and bypassing the existing hostile distribution channels of the
encumbant SSD ignorant server and storage heavyweights.
this was being done before the existance of an
SSD software market -
which would later automate and simplify SSD integration and therefore
- 2007 to 2014 - the dominant focus and center of gravity was
PCIe SSD accelerators.
was the rapid and domino effect-like adoption of 3rd party PCIe SSD accelerators
by every mainstream server manufacturer - which had been predicted years
earlier as an inevitable consequence of
CPU-SSD equivalency -
which changed the way that SSDs were perceived from being an alienlike
technology promoted by industry outsiders to being a necessary option which was
expected to be supported inside every new server product line.
we've been seeing in the enterprise PCIe SSD market in recent years is that most
vendors are focusing on making these products more affordable rather than trying
to push the limits of performance.
In the performance enhancement
region of the market - the emerging changes have been towards getting better
application performance by better integration with software rather than speedier
flash or interface speeds.
These efforts include:- application
optimized stacks, incremental standards such as NVMe, 3rd generation controller
architecture (multi-level partitioned flash movements) and in-situ processing.
- 2014 - 2018 - the new dominant focus and center of gravity in
large memory systems will be DIMM wars - which revisit long held assumptions
such as - what is memory? - where's the best place for it to go? - and how
much memory of each latency is best to have in each location? (Given that
multiple distinct memory and storage latencies have found
viable and enduring
economic and architectural product classication silos already.)
questions are being asked due to growing confidence from the SSD market
experience that application architectures and the design of data processing
engines are not (as once seemed) set in stone. They can be changed - if it
makes sense from a business perspective. And although the investment costs are
huge - the enterprise market has already learned to adapt to many changes caused
by flash and to many adptations within the evolving flash architecture
experience itself. So that opens the door for other memory types too.
territory for future DIMM wars includes already established emerging
NV DIMMs / hybrid
DIMMs) but also new products such as ultra high capacity DIMMs, nonflash
NVDIMMs, memory fabric expansion (by PCIe and IB) and probably big memory
fabricated onboard CPU chips (as an alternative to simply adding more DRAM
cache or more cores).
A big incentive for server makers to engage in
DIMM SSD wars is that integration with motherboard resources and firmware
promises better lock-in at the customer level because traditionally end users
have been less willing to exercise their freedoms to choose 3rd party
competitive suppliers for DIMM components.
It may be that the DIMM
SSD could become a stickier component for server makers than PCIe SSDs. It's
certainly the case that many of the early generations of DIMM enhanced SSD
products have required special cables or power or bios customizations by server
makers to support their operation.
|Xitore's NVDIMM-X -
comparison white paper|
|Editor:- September 27, 2016 - If you're
interested in a single document which summarizes most of the DIMM wars products
in the market today - take a look at this -
NVDIMM-X (pdf) - an architectural white paper by Xitore which is
creating this "-X" technology.|
This paper was brought to my
attention today by Xitore's CEO - Mike Amidi, CEO - who
said in his email - "This can be a good article to explain the main
difference between all non-traditional DRAM based solution sitting on DRAM
memory bus. Either persistence, non-persistence, or SSD-on-A-DIMM." ...read
the article (pdf)
|In this new market paradigm
- management complexity at the micro level and the ability to have intelligent
flow control symmetry which has been enabled by the flattening of read latency
costs spanning across many previously hard banded tiers - is enabling
utilization rates of installed data infrastructure which are vastly more
efficient than legacy enterprise architectures which were heavily optimized to
hide the latency weaknesses of hard drive based systems rather than optimized to
support native application based data query flows.|
lessons 2016 - No more deference to other markets|