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For Unparalleled Memory Performance, Intel Optane Persistent Memory Delivers on Its Promise

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Spring is in the air and it’s a good time to check in and provide an update from the Intel Optane team. If you have been following my blog posts, you know the last two years have been quite a journey. We launched the first generation of Intel® Optane™ persistent memory (PMem) in 2019 as a disruption to data center business-as-usual by delivering a new memory and storage tier to the traditional compute architecture.

Fast forward to 2021, and the latest 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors are launching with support for Intel Optane persistent memory and Intel® Optane™ SSDs. It’s been two years since Intel Optane PMem first launched so it’s revealing to look back and see how the once-upstart PMem has evolved from disruptor to mainstream player. As I discuss below, Intel Optane technologies have triggered fast customer and industry adoption, highlighting the fact that Optane has delivered on the promise of breakthrough memory performance and reduced infrastructure TCO.

A new vision of two-tiered memory and storage architectures

Intel Optane PMem combines the attributes of both memory and storage, with a unique combination of affordable large capacity and support for data persistence. In other words, it’s not traditional memory and it’s not typical storage: It’s flexible. Persistent memory should not be thought of as a static architectural tier, but rather as an opportunity to re-architect both memory and storage tiers by employing PMem as a distinct capacity or performance tier to expand memory or accelerate storage, depending on your workload and application requirements.

Intel Optane SSDs also represent an entirely new class of non-volatile memory. The high speed and density of these solid-state drives eliminate processing bottlenecks and improve storage performance in demanding applications cache tier for big data, high performance computing (HPC), virtualization and cloud computing. For instance, the new Intel Optane SSD P5800X is the world’s fastest data center SSD and delivers unprecedented storage value.[1]

Due to the flexibility of Intel Optane technology for use as either memory or storage, Intel has introduced new two-tiered memory and storage architectures that use PMem and Intel Optane SSDs to deliver significantly greater memory and storage performance, bridging the gap between memory and storage.

intel-optane-2-tier-memory-storage-hierarchy-rwd.jpg Figure 1. Intel Optane technologies enable new two-tier memory and storage architectures

The first of these two-tiered architectures is a memory use case. In this example, DRAM serves as the performance tier, while Intel Optane PMem acts as a capacity tier. The Intel Optane PMem is attached to the CPU via the DDR bus, enabling direct load/store access at DRAM speeds, but—unlike DRAM—this capacity is persistent, more affordable and offers up to 512 GB per DIMM. An example of this architecture is the way SAP HANA uses PMem for large datasets.

The second of the two-tiered architectures is a storage use case, where persistent memory is used as the performance tier to the 3D NAND SSD capacity tier. Intel Optane PMem is non-volatile and super-fast, providing an affordable capacity tier with standard costs and high performance. Our partner Oracle uses PMem in this way as part of Oracle Exadata Database Machine X8M.

Another option for two-tiered storage involves using two pools of SSDs: Intel Optane SSDs serve as the performance tier while NAND SSDs serve as the capacity tier. The two pools of storage are treated as one, but with the Intel Optane SSDs acting as the write buffer, storage cache and storage accelerator. Our storage appliance partner Vast Data uses Optane in this way with its HPC-as-a-Service offerings; watch this video to learn more.

Customer and industry adoption of Intel Optane technologies

Our ecosystem partners are embracing Optane, but how are customers making use of these powerful, innovative two-tiered architectures? Following are three examples of organizations using Intel Optane technologies to unlock unparalleled levels of data processing speed and performance through innovative deployments of Intel Optane PMem and SSDs. Some of these real-life examples are focused on expanding memory capacity, while others show that implementing an ultra-fast storage tier can drive performance acceleration. What these organizations have in common is that they bet their business on Intel Optane technologies—their mission-critical workloads demand extremely high performance and real-time analytics to achieve breakthrough results. They went all-in with Intel Optane technologies, and Intel Optane delivered.

  • CaixaBank: Banking the Future on Analytics. At Spain’s CaixaBank, 20% of all transactions are mobile, leading the bank to embrace digitalization of financial services and creation of new business models based on analytics from multiple channels of banking customer data. To meet these goals, CaixaBank implemented an Oracle Exadata big data solution powered by Intel® Xeon® processors and Intel Optane PMem. The CaixaBank solution employs PMem in the storage tier to help speed intensive data analysis and deliver real-time responsiveness for more actionable customer insights.

  • Mercy: Harnessing Data to Battle COVID-19. To create a smarter view of how COVID-19 was spreading and how it affected patients, Mercy, a regional U.S. health system, used an analytics system based on SAP HANA, Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Optane PMem to extract critical insights from clinical notes using natural language processing and artificial intelligence. With PMem implemented in the memory tier, data scientists at Mercy were able to quickly analyze enormous amounts of structured and unstructured data to deliver smarter patient care and better COVID-19 response coordination throughout the region.

  • Telefonica: Meeting Top-Tier SLA Requirements. Telefónica is one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, operating in 16 countries and serving more than 336 million customers. As part of its Virtual Data Center service, which requires sustained high throughput and low storage latency for critical workloads, Telefónica developed an optimized hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solution based on VMware vSAN and Intel Xeon Scalable processors to provide a consolidated, easy-to-manage platform with excellent throughput. To ensure consistent low storage latency, Intel Optane DC SSDs were implemented for the vSAN caching tier, enabling Telefónica’s vSAN-based infrastructure to meet the most demanding storage SLAs.

Intel Optane technologies have also gained rapid momentum across multiple industries. Over 200 of Fortune 500 companies have deployed Intel Optane PMem into their datacenters, with enterprise customers comprising 40% of customers, followed by cloud service providers at 13% and financial service at 12% of established customers[2]. Intel Optane SSDs are in datacenters at over 80 of Fortune 500 companies, with cloud service providers making up 24% of customers, enterprise customers representing 17%, and customers in energy and transportation segments comprising 15%.[3]

Intel Optane Technologies are crossing the proverbial chasm

As I mentioned before, the last couple of years have been an epic journey, with Intel Optane PMem evolving from freshly minted innovation to market disruptor, and now to a critical infrastructure element for mainstream computing architectures. To borrow from author Geoffrey Moore’s classic business book on the technology adoption lifecycle Crossing the Chasm, we believe that Intel Optane technologies are already successfully “crossing the chasm,” moving from use by early adopters to enthusiastic embrace by major corporations. As we continue to gain traction in the market, and with built-in support from new 3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors, the Intel Optane PMem 200 series, which delivers up to 6TB total memory per socket, with on average 32% higher memory bandwidth vs. the previous generation,[4] and the latest Intel Optane SSDs help extract even more data processing speed and reduced infrastructure TCO. This is the kind of reliable, consistent performance gain that organizations like CaixaBank, Mercy and Telefónica—and dozens of others—were willing to bet their business on.

To learn more about the Optane Journey, visit Intel Optane PMem and Intel Optane SSDs, and follow me on Twitter @Kristie_L_Mann.

Notices & Disclaimers
Performance varies by use, configuration and other factors. Learn more at
Performance results are based on testing as of dates shown in configurations and may not reflect all publicly available updates. See backup for configuration details. No product or component can be absolutely secure.
Your costs and results may vary.
Intel technologies may require enabled hardware, software or service activation.
© Intel Corporation. Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

[1] Source – Intel. As compared to generally available PCIe Gen4 x4 Enterprise and Data Center industry SSDs. Results may vary.
[2] Source – Intel. YouTube: Intel Optane History and Business Update
[3] Source – Intel. YouTube: Intel Optane History and Business Update
[4] Performance varies by use, configuration and other factors. Learn more here.

About the Author
Kristie is currently the Sr. Director of Product Management for Intel's Optane persistent memory products for the data center. She is responsible for market development, products, and marketing strategy. She joins this team from her prior role as the Director of Engineering Datacenter Engineering group. She is based in Portland, Oregon.