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Smart Storage goes DIMM with memory channel storage

Smart Storage Systems and Diablo Technologies launch their enterprise memory channel storage that plugs into servers' DIMM slots.

Smart Storage Systems this week released a server-side memory channel storage card using technology from Diablo Technologies Inc.

Smart's ULLtraDIMM flash storage boards sit in the motherboard's dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots and use memory channel lanes for system connections. The vendor claims its cards have much lower and more consistent latency than traditional PCI Express (PCIe) flash cards or SATA and SAS solid-state drive (SSD) connections.

Smart Storage Systems is in the process of being acquired by SSD vendor SanDisk, which announced the pending $307 million deal in July and expects to close this month.

Smart and Diablo have a deal allowing Smart to use Diablo's memory channel storage (MCS) technology. MCS plugs into a server's DIMM slots without requiring changes to the hardware, operating system or applications.

"Memory channel storage is essentially persistent memory that's placed between DRAM and PCIe SSDs, so it really creates a tier in between the two of those," said Kevin Wagner, Diablo's vice president of marketing. "It's the same size as a DRAM DIMM module. It will plug directly into the DIMM slots with no changes to the motherboard or DIMM slots."

John Scaramuzzo, president of Smart Storage Systems, said, "From our perspective, this is the world's first real flash storage device that's on the memory channel."

Viking Technology's ArxCis-NV is also a nonvolatile DIMM storage system, but Viking offers the 4 GB DRAM and 8 GB NAND cards as DRAM backup or disaster recovery targets in case of a power or system failure.

Each ULLtraDIMM board has two solid-state chips with either 100 GB or 200 GB NAND 19 nanometer multi-level cell flash. Configuring a server, blade or storage array system to use the boards requires adding three lines of code to the BIOS. Software on the ULLtraDIMM boards installs drivers into the system that allows the operating system to see the boards as traditional storage targets or as additional memory.

"We have some IP wrapped up in there that essentially will take all of the modules in the system, all of the flash on the modules in the system, and it will use them as DRAM," Wagner said.

Wagner said using the memory channel eliminates latency from the storage device to the compute resources. The MCS flash storage devices connect to compute resources at DRAM speeds.

Additional MCS boards scale performance linearly because there is no added contention when you add devices, Scaramuzzo said, adding that the memory lanes circumvent all of the typical I/O PCIe hub or host bus adapter aggregation points. The only restrictions to adding ULLtraDIMM boards is the number of DIMM slots, and that the system must keep at least one DRAM DIMM to boot and execute the OS. Each board adds 150,000 read IOPS and 65,000 write IOPS.

MCS boards can theoretically scale flash capacity on the memory channel to 6.4 TB.

"You can fill every other DIMM slot in the system, all the remaining DIMM slots, with this memory channel storage," Wagner said. "You can imagine that there are a lot of applications where if they had more than just tens of gigabytes, if they actually had terabytes of essential memory in the system, then they could take really great advantage of it."

The ULLtraDIMM boards use Smart Storage's Guardian flash management technology, which allows the company to offer a five-year warranty at 10 write cycles per day, up to two million hours of mean time between failure, full data path protection, data fail recovery and backup power circuitry.

Smart Storage is currently sampling the ULLtraDIMM MCS boards with customers. Pricing is expected to fall between DRAM and flash PCIe card pricing, but no details were released.

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