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Hewlett Packard Enterprise has introduced a new class of enterprise storage called Memory-Driven Flash. The system incorporates storage-class memory into the storage infrastructure to provide a hybrid approach to storage that bridges the gap between dynamic RAM and NAND flash storage.
Using SCM significantly improves performance, while still delivering high capacities, but without DRAM's steep price tag. HPE Memory-Driven Flash is included in the company's 3PAR StoreServ storage systems, and HPE plans to make it available to its Nimble Storage systems this year.
A new class of memory
The 3PAR system provides tier 1 storage built on a flash-optimized architecture that delivers high performance and availability, while scaling from a few terabytes to more than 26 petabytes. The system comes with data reduction software that compresses and deduplicates data. It incorporates HPE InfoSight, a predictive analytics tool that uses AI and machine learning to help predict and prevent storage problems. HPE offers the 3PAR systems in a range of models and configurations, with support for all-flash arrays, converged flash arrays and tiered storage arrays that extend the DRAM cache.
The Nimble storage systems include all-flash and hybrid SAN arrays that also use InfoSight predictive analytics to guarantee high availability and fast, reliable access. The arrays use triple-parity RAID to protect against multiple drive failures, along with intra-drive parity for additional protection. IT can deploy Nimble systems in data centers and cloud environments, and configure and manage them once they're implemented. Nimble storage also comes with the HPE Cloud Volumes storage service to support hybrid environments.
HPE is incorporating Memory-Driven Flash into the 3PAR and Nimble systems to address the high-performance demands of enterprise AI, machine learning, real-time analytics and transactional processing workloads used in the financial services and e-commerce industries. For example, some AI and machine learning applications must evaluate massive amounts of constantly changing data, creating extreme I/O demands on storage systems.
Existing memory and storage technologies have limitations when it comes to handling such workloads. DRAM is fast and efficient, but it's expensive, difficult to scale and can't persist data. On the other hand, NAND can persist data and support large data volumes, and it's also dropping in price, but it isn't nearly as fast and efficient as DRAM.
Faster than NAND, but denser and cheaper
By incorporating SCM technology into the storage infrastructure, HPE Memory-Driven Flash addresses some of the limitations of DRAM and NAND. SCM technology closes the gap between memory and storage, and strikes a balance between performance, capacity and cost. Memory-Driven Flash provides a hybrid approach similar to the way flash is used to cache data in a hybrid storage system that incorporates both flash and spinning disks.
According to HPE, Memory-Driven Flash is 10 times faster than standard-NAND arrays, approaching the performance levels of DRAM memory, but at a lower cost and higher density. In addition, SCM response times are more predictable and consistent at higher workload densities than standard NAND arrays, and SCM drives can deliver 10 times more write cycles before wearing out.
HPE has been working with Intel to come up with a shared storage approach for its 3PAR and Nimble systems to integrate SCM technology into its drives. The result is the HPE Memory-Driven Flash drive that uses NAND flash for durable storage and an Intel Optane memory card to cache frequently accessed data and metadata. The memory card, based on 3D XPoint technology, is installed on the storage controller, where it acts as a buffer between the durable storage and server memory.
The Optane card is faster and more efficient than flash memory, making it a highly effective data cache. It also helps reduce some of the overhead that comes with a flash drive, such as garbage collection and background processes that support block-level writes. As a result, HPE Memory-Driven Flash can deliver lower read-access times, improved performance and greater durability.
HPE Memory-Driven Flash storage is possible, in part, because of NVMe and -- by extension -- NVMe-oF, which the industry designed to take full advantage of SSD capabilities. NVMe is faster and leaner than the older SCSI and SATA interfaces. It is also designed for concurrency, parallelism and scalability, features necessary to support SCM drives and the applications that use them.
Organizations with existing HPE arrays or that purchase them going forward can upgrade their systems to accommodate Memory-Driven Flash, without replacing equipment or suffering disruptive downtimes.
The future of SCM
HPE isn't the only vendor incorporating SCM technologies. Dell EMC's updated PowerMax flash array incorporates both NVMe and SCM to support high-performing workloads across NVMe over Fibre Channel networks. The PowerMax systems include a real-time machine learning engine that optimizes NVMe and SCM performance without incurring additional management overhead.
Other vendors are also rumored to be looking into SCM technologies, although the industry is still young. Interest in SCM is growing, however, and with vendors such as IBM, HPE and Dell EMC investing in it, the technology is bound to improve and expand its reach and perhaps even come down in price.
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