Non-volatile memory's future is in software

New memory technology to serve dual roles of mass storage and system memory

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"We're not saying flash will replace every instance of DRAM, but developers will have 10 times the capacity of DRAM at a little less performance and a fraction of the cost and power," Orenstein said.

Products using the Atomic Multi-block Writes API are expected within a year, Orenstein said.

Octal module
Through new APIs, Fusion-io's 10TB ioDrive Octal PCIe module could someday play the dual role of system memory and mass storage.

How NVM has affected data centers

To understand the impact of NVM in a data center, it helps to look at what was there before it: hard drives and volatile system memory or DRAM. DRAM is extremely expensive and is volatile, meaning it loses all data when powered off unless it has a battery backup.

DRAM's performance is about six orders of magnitude better than that of hard drives, meaning it's about 1 million times faster, according to Pappas. In 1987, when NAND flash entered the picture, it offered a middle ground with about three orders of magnitude better performance than disk drives, meaning it was about 1,000 times faster, Pappas said. Until recently, however, flash was not cheap enough to use as a mass storage device in servers and arrays. Now that it is, its popularity is soaring.

Hardware manufacturers now use NAND flash as an additional tier of mass storage that provides faster performance for I/O-hungry applications such as online transaction processing and virtual desktop infrastructures. But NAND flash is typically not used as system memory, meaning a CPU does not access it as directly as it does DRAM memory.

Today, storage infrastructures are built based on the performance of hard disk drives. SNIA's efforts will promote an infrastructure that supports the type of performance that NVM can offer.

SNIA's NVM Programming Technical Working Group was formed in July and promotes the development of operating system enhancements to support NVM hardware. "We're focusing on that shared characteristic of this next-generation memory. So we don't need to care which particular technology wins, we just need to design an infrastructure that is capable of using what that replacement technology will be," Pappas said.

How new specifications address NVM performance

SNIA's working group will first focus on optimizing operating systems, so that software platforms and the file stack recognize when faster media is available.

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