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IBM rebrands SanDisk and Diablo's ULLtraDIMM memory channel storage

IBM's new X6 server architecture includes the first OEM deal for the memory channel ULLtraDIMM storage card from SanDisk and Diablo Technologies.

SanDisk Corp. and Diablo Technologies Inc. took a step toward getting their ULLtraDIMM solid-state drive (SSD) memory channel storage cards established as a data center staple by winning an OEM deal with IBM.

SanDisk and Diablo revealed this week that IBM rebranded ULLtraDIMM as its eXFlash memory channel storage component that was part of its Jan. 16 flash launch. The eXFlash is available with IBM X6 System x and Pure Systems servers.

"This is the first OEM that [IBM] has qualified, and [it] is incorporating the ULLtraDIMM product in its platforms," said Esther Spanjer, SanDisk's director of enterprise product marketing.

Diablo released the ULLtraDIMM architecture with Smart Storage Systems in August while Smart Storage was in the process of being acquired by SanDisk. IBM claims the X6 architecture that utilizes the ULLtraDIMM technology provides three times the scalable memory of current competitors and IBM's x86-based systems for data analytics and cloud deployments.

The ULLtraDIMM 200 GB and 400 GB storage cards fit in the motherboard's dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots and use the memory channel for system connections. The IBM implementation scales to 12.8 TB of ULLtraDIMM storage on the memory bus.

According to Spanjer, IBM announced the ULLtraDIMM technology achieves between five and 10 microsecond write latency, but that SanDisk expects to lower those figures to below five microseconds by the time the X6 architecture reaches general availability. Spanjer said that the closest competing technology, PCI Express (PCIe) flash cards, can achieve around 50 microseconds of latency.

Because the ULLtraDIMM storage modules sit in the memory channel lanes, the modules aren't slowed by media overhead and contention, like PCIe and SSD flash are when you start scaling capacity and performance.

"Where you would typically have to go out to an external storage device through some I/O connection and storage stack to get the information you need and bring it into DRAM, this already has it in the DRAM subsystem," said Kevin Wagner, Diablo Technology's vice president of marketing. "It simply does a [memory] copy from the storage device through the memory controller over to DRAM, and it never has to leave that memory controller."

Because the ULLtraDIMM modules are viewed by operating systems and applications as a typical storage device, the modules are mounted and managed just as any other storage device would be.

Michele Reitz, a senior research analyst with Gartner, said IBM's inclusion of the ULLtraDIMM technology in its X6 architecture certainly is a market validation, but the technology will need "major OEM support," meaning several more deals, to "gain meaningful traction."

Diablo Technology is not the only company developing memory channel storage, and its technology is now the subject of a lawsuit by a rival company.

Netlist Inc., an Irvine, Calif. -based designer and manufacturer of logic-based memory subsystems, filed suit against Smart Storage Systems and Diablo in August alleging patent infringement, antitrust violations, trade secret misappropriation, trademark infringement and a history of deceptive conduct and public statements. The case is currently before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana, Calif.

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