News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

DIMM-connected flash further blurs the line between storage and memory

Smart's ULLtraDIMM flash storage boards let users connect flash storage directly to the memory channel, blurring the line between storage and memory.

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

The vendor claimed its cards have much lower latency than PCI Express (PCIe) flash cards or SATA and SAS solid-state drive connections.

Smart's ULLtraDIMM flash storage boards connect directly to server memory channel lanes via dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots. The company said this requires no changes to the motherboard or DIMM slots.

"[The cards] can scale flash capacity on the memory channel to 6.4 TB," said Marc Staimer, founder and senior analyst of Beaverton, Ore.-based Dragon Slayer Consulting. "It's not quite as good [a] performance as DRAM, but it's less expensive and that's a lot of potential capacity." He went on to say that he thinks many server vendors will OEM the cards.

Smart has positioned ULLtraDIMM as a potential tier between PCIe flash and DRAM. But do users need another server-side flash tier? 

"I think as long as a new tool offers a sufficiently differentiated and viable price/performance from existing tools then it will find its place," said Mark Peters, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. "The range of capacity/performance/price needs in the market is very broad and something of a chicken-and-egg situation where demand often exists once an appropriate tool permits better performance for specific workloads."

Dennis Martin, president and founder of Arvada, Colo.-based Demartek, said connecting flash to the memory channel is not so much about creating another server-side tier. "It's really about significantly reducing latency to get storage accesses at the same or nearly the same access speed as main memory," he said. "It's about the long-term difference between storage and memory and where we would really like to store things."

Staimer agreed and said "memory-constrained operations are going to love this, and the HPC [high-performance computing] market will be the main consumers."

Lower latency than PCIe-connected flash at a lower price than DRAM will no doubt be appealing to users. However, some organizations may hold out for what's coming down the line -- especially if their servers' DIMM slots are already plugged up with DRAM.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based Server and StorageIO, said the cards are interesting, but he sees them as a sort of stopgap. "This approach may be too little too late for what eventually will occur: native and open NAND flash support via motherboards along with other memory-side enhancements. Micron and others have indicated -- if not made statements -- that this is the direction they [are] taking."

Dig Deeper on All-flash arrays

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.