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HPE's hybrid DRAM/flash a first in new memory family

Posted: 31 Mar 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DRAM? flash memory modules? persistent memory? servers?

Surveying the persistent memory landscape

HPE is not the first to jump on the NVDIMM bandwagon. A handful of module makers shipped about 100,000 cards last year and could ship a few million this year, said Niebel.

Today's 8GByte cards will be followed by 16 and 32 Gbyte ones now in the lab. And the NAND-based cards are expected to give way to a host of alternative persistent memories over the next two years.

"As in-memory computing and real-time analytics take off, people will want to go up in capacity and down in latency," said Niebel.

XPoint is expected to grab the biggest slice of the new business, although Niebel forecasts it may not start high volume production until 2018. "My latest forecast pushed out shipments to 2018 to be conservative," said Niebel.

Intel and Micron promised to ship XPoint chips this year and NVDIMMs in 2017 when they launched the technology in July 2015. But a presentation from a Micron executive in January backtracked, saying products may not ship for 12-18 months due to a range of materials and manufacturing issues.

A variety of alternatives are in the wings. Spin-transfer torque memory vendors could ship Gbit chips before 2019, as could resistive RAM vendors such as Crossbar Inc. which like Adesto Technologies also is targeting lower density for use in the Internet of Things, Niebel said.

Further out, Nantero Inc. has talked about 4 Mbit versions of MRAMs, and the memristor technology developed by HP Labs has attracted efforts at SanDisk as well as startup Knowm.

"Lots of things are in stealth mode, but whether they will have an impact like XPoint is the big issue," Niebel said. "I think most of the industry hasn't invested in R&D and doesn't have the manufacturing base, funding and skill to make the impact XPoint canthey've worked on it 10-15 years, taking technologies from MRAM, ReRAM and phase change to build their recipe," he added.

Nonvolatile memories on shared serve

Figure 2: Nonvolatile memories will sit on shared server fabrics: HPE.

The industry needs to plow the way for the new memory types, something HPE and others are doing. Ultimately, systems will need to upgrade operating systems and applications to access persistent memory shared via fabric interconnects among servers.

HPE is taking small but significant steps in that direction with its new NVDIMM-N modules. For example, it will write its own Windows Server 2012 drivers and Linux SDK for the boards.

It is collaborating with a handful of software companies on the work, including Microsoft which will show results at its annual Build event this week. "We want to drive changes so software can talk in a byte-addressable manner," said Gibbs of HPE.

Meanwhile HPE is also considering its next steps in persistent memory. "We are evaluating, but I would not say we have definitive plans for" Diablo's Memory1 cards, he said. The modules offer performance boosts on jobs such as Apache Spark database and lower costs per Gbyte but less data protection than NVDIMM-N cards, he added.

Intel is still keeping secret planned use cases and exact time frames for its XPoint modules. Meanwhile the memristor is "still in its early days" in which even use cases have not yet been defined, said Gibbs.

-Rick Merritt,EE Times

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