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New Vistas For Persistent Memory

Feb 4 2014, 7:24pm CST | by

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New Vistas For Persistent Memory

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New Vistas For Persistent Memory

Flash memory has successfully penetrated many consumer and enterprise applications, enabling rugged high-performance products.  The data rates of flash memory have led to advances in the speeds of storage communication interfaces and also to the use of interfaces formerly used only for inter-computer applications to also support digital storage.  These interfaces are now being used for high-performance storage include PCIe and more recently the computer memory bus.

PCIe is the basis of the next generation of SCSI products, Thunderbolt and of course PCIe storage products from companies such as Fusion-io, Verident (now part of Western Digital), Samsung, SanDisk and LSI.  Flash products sitting on the memory bus include those from Diablo Technologies, Netlist, SanDisk and Viking Technologies.  The memory bus products allow very fast access to stored data and in conjunction with a computer’s DRAM provide an expanded nonvolatile memory for the computer.

At the SNIA Winter Meeting in San Jose the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative announced a new special interest group around NVDIMM technology that puts flash memory on the memory bus.  Members of this new Special Interest Group include AgigA Tech, IDT, INphi, Intel, Micron, Microsoft, Netlist, Pericom, Samsung, SK Hynix, SMART Modular Technolgies and Viking Technology.  The group will provide education on how to design-in NVDIMMs, communicate existing industry standards, help solution providers communicate the value of NVDIMMs to the greater market and develop case studies, best practices and assistance for end users on the various products and solutions.

An important element in using persistent (that is nonvolatile) memory in the PCIe and memory bus of computers is the creation of software programs that take advantage of the speed and low latency of nonvolatile memory.   With the increase in performance that new interfaces allow, software built around slower storage technologies becomes a significant issue preventing getting the full performance from a persistent memory system.  The figure shows that latency in upcoming NVM PCIe interfaces will be mostly due to software latency unless software is developed that eliminates this latency.

There are other solid state storage technologies in the wings that are even faster than flash memory, even approaching the speeds of DRAM, such as spin torque MRAM and resistive RRAM.  These products will reduce the latency and increase the data rates even more than flash memory.  New high-performance persistent memory products will require even more optimization of operating system and other software to take advantage of this new performance capability for nonvolatile memory.

A persistent memory technology with performance approaching that of volatile DRAM will likely replace volatile with nonvolatile memory.  In particular this is likely if the prices of the new nonvolatile memory can scale to lower values than DRAM (this happened with flash memory in about 2004 on a price per GB basis).

A computer running with nonvolatile memory can recover immediately from a power off state and so allows new power saving modes.  Also persistent memory creates new opportunities to share that memory between different computers or computer chips using Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA).  These sorts of changes, combined with software that takes advantage of the performance of nonvolatile memory will fundamentally change future computer architectures.

The use of flash memory in modern computers is enabling new uses for these systems and capabilities that make many big data operations much faster than ever before.  The development of the next generation of persistent memory technology and the computer software and hardware to support this technology will fundamentally change the design of enterprise, computer and consumer products.

Source: Forbes


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