IDF 2016 is up and running, and Intel will no doubt be announcing and presenting on a few items of interest. Of note for this Storage Editor are multiple announcements pertaining to upcoming Intel Optane technology products.

Optane is Intel’s branding of their joint XPoint venture with Micron. Intel launched this branding at last year's IDF, and while the base technology is as high as 1000x faster than NAND flash memory, full solutions wrapped around an NVMe capable controller have shown to sit at roughly a 10x improvement over NAND. That’s still nothing to sneeze at, and XPoint settles nicely into the performance gap seen between NAND and DRAM.

Since modern M.2 NVMe SSDs are encroaching on the point of diminishing returns for consumer products, Intel’s initial Optane push will be into the enterprise sector. There are plenty of use cases for a persistent storage tier faster than NAND, but most enterprise software is not currently equipped to take full advantage of the gains seen from such a disruptive technology.

XPoint die. 128Gbit of storage at a ~20nm process.

In an effort to accelerate the development and adoption of 3D XPoint optimized software, Intel will be offering enterprise customers access to an Optane Testbed. This will allow for performance testing and tuning of customers’ software and applications ahead of the shipment of Optane hardware.

I did note something interesting in Micron's FMS 2016 presentation. QD=1 random performance appears to start at ~320,000 IOPS, while the Intel demo from a year ago (first photo in this post) showed a prototype running at only 76,600 IOPS. Using that QD=1 example, it appears that as controller technology improves to handle the large performance gains of raw XPoint, so does performance. Given a NAND-based SSD only turns in 10-20k IOPS at that same queue depth, we're seeing something more along the lines of 16-32x performance gains with the Micron prototype. Those with a realistic understanding of how queues work will realize that the type of gains seen at such low queue depths will have a significant impact in real-world performance of these products.

The speed of 3D XPoint immediately shifts the bottleneck back to the controller, PCIe bus, and OS/software. True 1000x performance gains will not be realized until second generation XPoint DIMMs are directly linked to the CPU.

The raw die 1000x performance gains simply can't be fully realized when there is a storage stack in place (even an NVMe one). That's not to say XPoint will be slow, and based on what I've seen so far, I suspect XPoint haters will still end up burying their heads in the sand once we get a look at the performance results of production parts.

Leaked roadmap including upcoming Optane products

Intel is expected to show a demo of their own more recent Optane prototype, and we suspect similar performance gains there as their controller tech has likely matured. We'll keep an eye out and fill you in once we've seen Intel's newer Optane goodness it in action!