Intel Optane solid-state drives (SSDs) haven’t been on the market for very long, but they’re already starting to make an impact across a range of industries. These drives use a completely new technology based on a 3D lattice structure that vastly reduces the latencies typically exhibited by standard NAND-based SSDs.

Figure 1. The 3D XPoint technology architecture creates a three-dimensional checkerboard, where memory cells sit at the intersections of perpendicular wires, which allows the cells to be addressed individually

If you’re unfamiliar with Intel Optane technology, take a look at two recent blog posts I wrote on the topic:

At Prowess, we’ve been fortunate to team up with Intel on writing about how some companies use Intel Optane technology to give their own software offerings a major boost in performance and scalability. Here are three examples of companies and technologies that are making the most of Intel Optane technology.In this post, I want to share a few innovative ways that organizations are integrating Intel Optane SSDs into their products, platforms, and data centers.

Accelerating Performance for Containers and VMs in the Data Center

Virtuozzo is a Seattle-based company that provides solutions for virtual environments, including hypervisors, containers, and software-defined storage (SDS). The company offers a hyper-converged platform that helps businesses migrate to software-defined data centers (SDDCs) in order to consolidate workloads and infrastructure. That platform relies on highly flexible, efficient SDS to provide peak performance.

Virtuozzo realized that it could provide its customers with a significant increase in performance by replacing 3D NAND SSDs with the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series as the storage media for both containers and virtual machines (VMs) on the Virtuozzo platform. In benchmark testing, the company reported up to 150 percent better random read and seven times better random write performance when using the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series, compared to using previous-generation Intel SSDs.[i] That’s an impressive speed increase, and it demonstrates the value these innovative drives bring to the table for modern SDDC environments that rely on efficient virtualization.

Providing Instant Insights on Data by Accelerating Real-Time Analytics

Another vendor discovered a completely different way to benefit from the low latencies provided by Intel Optane SSDs. GigaSpaces offers customers an open-source, in-memory platform called InsightEdge, which unifies fast-data analytics and transactional processing. The platform provides enterprises with instant business insights they can use to help increase revenues, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and outperform competitors.

GigaSpaces InsightEdge Platform relies on fast, efficient storage to help power real-time analytics. Previous-generation Intel SSDs are efficient and cost-effective with InsightEdge, but because those SSDs are NAND-based, they incur latency overhead that can be significantly reduced with Intel Optane SSDs.

GigaSpaces decided to put Intel Optane SSDs to the test to see if they lived up to their promised performance levels. The company ran geospatial and advanced data analysis on 4-GB data sets in InsightEdge Platform to carry out real-time operational decision-making. The tests compared a system with the Intel Xeon Platinum 8168 processor and the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series against a system with the Intel Xeon processor E5-2660 v4 and the Intel SSD DC P3700 Series. The newer Intel processor and Intel Optane SSDs are designed to provide optimum performance together. The results for the Intel Optane technology–based configuration were impressive: platform data-load times were reduced by 33 percent and query times were reduced by 23 percent.[ii]

An upcoming solution brief from Intel and GigaSpaces will include all the testing details, but the takeaways are significant: Intel Optane SSDs can help eliminate data-center storage bottlenecks and allow companies to process massive data sets more affordably by reducing transaction costs for latency-sensitive workloads.

Significantly Reducing MRI Scanning Times

Intel Optane SSDs have latencies that are much closer to DRAM than traditional storage options. But in contrast to DRAM, Intel Optane SSDs have much greater capacities and can store data at a much lower cost per gigabyte. Because of their dual nature—in-between DRAM and standard SSDs—Intel Optane SSDs can be used in ways that aren’t possible with more traditional SSDs or hard-disk drives (HDDs), as is demonstrated in this third example.

Researchers at the University of Pisa and the IMAGO7 Foundation knew how difficult it could be for some patients—especially children—to stay perfectly still during long periods while undergoing MRI scans. The researchers responded by developing an innovative technique—called MRI fingerprinting—that not only reduces scanning times, but also increases the accuracy of scans for doctors and technicians. The new technique showed promise but was computationally demanding on the processors and storage media, which created a problem. The researchers quickly determined that traditional NAND-based HDDs or even SSDs could not be used with MRI fingerprinting because of the high latencies inherent to those drives. In-memory processing could solve the latency problems, but that option was off the table due to the high costs of DRAM.

As an alternative to DRAM, University of Pisa researchers looked to the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series as a more affordable low-latency option for MRI fingerprinting. In fact, latencies were so low with Intel Optane SSDs that the MRI fingerprinting code could be written to treat the drives as memory, rather than traditional storage. The results were impressive. Internal testing showed that MRI fingerprinting with Intel Optane technology could be used to reduce MRI scanning times from 40 minutes to two minutes, and post-exam data processing times from days to hours.[iii]

Discovering New Uses for Intel Optane Technology

These are only a few of the vast number of ways companies are extending, improving, and innovating technologies by adding Intel Optane SSDs to their data centers. Intel has some useful papers and videos on its website that explain more about the technology and how companies are using Intel Optane SSDs.

As innovative as these drives are, Intel Optane SSDs are only the beginning of what’s possible. The same 3D XPoint technology that underpins Intel Optane SSDs will provide the foundation for Intel persistent memory, due out later in 2018. Intel persistent memory combines non-volatile storage with the performance benefits and form-factor of DRAM. To read my take on how Intel persistent memory could transform enterprise computing and storage, see my recent blog post, “Intel Persistent Memory Combines Storage and Memory in a Single Package.”

Keep an eye on our blog for more posts on innovative new technologies like Intel Optane SSDs. And be sure to follow us on Twitter, and LinkedIn, too.

[i] Intel. “Virtuozzo Hyperconverged Platform Uses Intel Optane SSDs to Accelerate Performance for Containers and VMs.” November 2017.

[ii] Based on testing performed by GigaSpaces in 2017. Configurations: Baseline, two-socket Intel Xeon processor E5-2660 v4, 2.0 GHz, total 28 cores, Intel Turbo Boost Technology and Intel Hyper-Threading Technology (Intel HT Technology) on, 256 GB total memory, 16 DIMMs, 16 GB, 2,133 megatransfers per second (MT/s), DDR4, CentOS 7, Intel SSD DC P3700 Series (1.6 TB Intel 3D NAND SSD with NVM Express [NVMe]) compared to a two-socket Intel Xeon Platinum 8168 processor, 2.7 GHz, total 48 cores, Intel Turbo Boost Technology and Intel HT Technology on, 192 GB total memory, 12 DIMMs, 16 GB, 2,100 MT/s, DDR4 LRDIMM, 1 x 800 GB, CentOS 7 Linux, Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series (375 GB, NVMe).

[iii] University of Pisa IT Center. “Using memory mapping to program Intel Optane SSD drives.” October 2017.