“Game changer” is a term that gets used with enthusiasm in our industry. The new 3D technology from Intel and Micron will likely prove to be game changing in hindsight as much as it seems in foresight. To get a closer look, let’s separate the two 3D technologies.
3D NAND is an extension of existing NAND technology and increases capacity of the current NAND chips. To learn more about 3D NAND, check out this webinar.
Some highlights include capacity increases of 3.4TB of space on a thumb drive-sized memory stick and more than 10TB of space on a 2.5-inch standard SSD drive.
The more radical technology change – and far more game changing — is with Intel and Micron’s 3D XPoint (pronounced “cross point”) coming out in 2016, which is 1,000 times faster than today’s NAND (today’s Flash SSD drives) and 1,000 times more durable. It’s nonvolatile, has no transistors and is described by Intel as “very scalable,” which is “a whole new class of memory.”
Additionally from the Micron website:
“…Its ability to enable high-speed, high-capacity data Storage close to the processor creates new possibilities for system architects and promises to enable entirely new applications….”
I know what you might be thinking: “So, if 3D XPoint technology is to be used for storage, didn’t you just move the bottleneck to the connection path?”
Yes. Now the data must sit much closer to the motherboard than it has grown to sitting with today’s SAN architecture for 3D XPoint technology to reach its full potential. Traditional SAN networking skills may be going extinct with some type of hardware that can manage distributed data chunks sitting on the PCIe bus of physical servers. (Hardware? How about software? Already exists, but is it fast enough?)
Let’s do some quick math here:
Current Fibre Channel Bandwidth sits at 16Gbps (0.001953125 TB per second).
With less added latency introduced by using direct attached FC, you could push roughly 2GB of data every 1,000 milliseconds.
Factor in switching and that number gets a bit worse. Obviously, this speed bottleneck won’t cut it for technology pushing data at 1,000 times today’s Flash drives, which do roughly 4,000 IOPs per SSD drive (3D XPoint does 4,000,000 IOPs per drive? No, not exactly.) The speed difference in actuality runs at approximately 7.23 times the current SSD – so it is faster bandwidth/throughput. The “1,000 times faster” difference is in latency – a 3D XPoint storage product will be 1,000 times faster in latency than an SSD NAND–based drive is today. So 3D XPoint potentially could act as a memory tier and in fact works in either a DDR4 slot or as an NVMe-based Storage product. NVMe is a new low-latency PCIe slot that Intel developed in advance of 3D Xpoint’s release.
So, which vendors of technology win in this new paradigm shift?
I point the laser firmly at server vendors such as HP and Cisco and storage vendors such as Nutanix, which already use a form of distributed storage or node-based storage. For sure, new ways of doing storage aggregation will need to become popular. Or some real breakthrough in the networking technology of “Storage Area Networking.”
What happens when 3D XPoint becomes really low in cost? The future looks much different from today, for sure. One prediction is that server-based storage solutions will come to be mainstream more than currently and all the major Storage vendors will still come out looking great. After all, there is the aforementioned Nutanix, as well as the various products from EMC, HP’s VSAN potential on any of its qualified and excellent ProLiant Servers, or the node-storage-based blast from the recent past and present day — StoreVirtual, also from HP, running the LeftHand OS.