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An NVDIMM Primer (Part 2 of 2)

AgigA RamCardTwoThis post is the second of a two-part SSD Guy series outlining the nonvolatile DIMM or NVDIMM.  The first part explained what an NVDIMM is and how they are named.  This second part describes the software used to support NVDIMMs (BIOS, operating system, and processor instructions) and discusses issues of security.

Software Changes

Today’s standard software boots a computer under the assumption that the memory at boot-up contains random bits — this needed to be changed to support NVDIMMs.  The most fundamental of these changes was to the BIOS (Basic I/O Subsystem), the code that “wakes up” the computer.

The BIOS is responsible for detecting all of the computer’s hardware and installing the appropriate drivers, after which it loads the bootstrap program from the mass storage device into the DRAM main memory.  When an NVDIMM is used the BIOS must Continue reading

An NVDIMM Primer (Part 1 of 2)

NVDIMMs are gaining interest lately, so The SSD Guy thought it might be worthwhile to explain both what they are and how NVDIMM nomenclature works.

As I was writing it I noticed that the post got pretty long, so I have split it into two parts.  The first part explains what an NVDIMM is and defines the names for today’s three kinds of NVDIMM.  The second part tells about software changes used to support NVDIMMs in BIOS, operating systems, and even processor instruction sets.  It also discusses the problem of security.

In case the name is unfamiliar, NVDIMM stands for “Nonvolatile Dual-Inline Memory Module.”  Standard computer memory – DRAM – is inserted into the system in the DIMM form factor, but DRAM loses its data when power is removed.  The NVDIMM is nonvolatile, or persistent, so its data remains intact despite a loss of power.  This takes some effort and always costs more for reasons that will be explained shortly.

Although might seem a little odd to discuss memory in a forum devoted to SSDs, which are clearly storage, the NVDIMM is a storage device, so it rightly Continue reading

3D XPoint Memory at the Storage Developer’s Conference

3D XPoint Report GraphicThis Sunday (Sept. 20, 2015) I will be presenting my company’s findings on the 3D XPoint memory that was introduced by Intel and Micron in July.  I will be speaking at the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Developer Conference (SDC) Pre-Conference Primer.  You can click the name  to be taken to the agenda.

This won’t be the only talk about persistent memory technology at the conference.  Prior to my presentation storage consultants Tom Coughlin and Ed Grochowski will give an overview of advances in nonvolatile memories, and following my presentation will be two Intel talks.

Intel will be covering this new technology a lot during the conference.  Of a total of 120 presentations at the conference and pre-conference primer, Intel will be presenting nine, seven of which directly name persistent memory or nonvolatile memory in the title.  Other firms will also be talking about NVM: AgigA, Calypso, HP, Pure Storage, and SMART Modular.  Even Microsoft alludes to it in a couple of its presentation titles.  Persistent memory is a hot issue.

So, the question for readers of The SSD Guy blog is: “Will this do away with SSDs?”

This is a question that was Continue reading

Where does NVRAM Fit?

AGIGARAM DDR4 NVDIMM (Photo Courtesy of AgigA Tech)There’s been a lot of interest in NVRAM recently.  This technology has been lurking in the background for decades, and suddenly has become very popular.

What is NVRAM?  Quite simply, it’s DRAM or SRAM that has a back-up flash memory a small controller, and a battery or super-capacitor.  During operation the DRAM or SRAM is used in a system the same way that any DRAM or SRAM would be used.  When power is interrupted the controller moves all of the data from the DRAM or SRAM to the flash using the backup power from the battery or super-capacitor.  When power is restored, the controller moves the contents of the flash back into the SRAM or DRAM and the processor can resume operation where it left off.

In some ways it’s storage and in some ways it’s memory, so Continue reading

Violin & Microsoft Take a New Approach to Scaling

Violin all-flash arrays with embedded Microft softwareViolin Memory and Microsoft have jointly announced a novel way of harnessing the power of Windows Server software.  Violin will be shipping its memory arrays with a special version of Windows Server 2012 R2 pre-installed on the embedded server that manages the internal operations of Violin’s all-flash array.

Violin explains that native support of specially-optimized versions of Windows Server and System Center that have been tuned for an all-memory array will provide improved performance and economics for large-scale enterprise cloud deployments.

The system can internally run Continue reading

A New Way to Use SSDs

Micron's View of Computing - Speaker is the CPU, Audience is StorageIn his Flash Memory Summit keynote on Wednesday, Micron VP and Chief Memory Systems Architect Ed Doller made a compelling demonstration of the power and performance advantages of a new approach to computing.

With true showmanship, Doller had his co-workers hand out buttons with LED lights to the entire audience.  The LEDs in these buttons were either green or blue, with the colors randomly dispersed among the crowd.  Doller asked the entire audience to turn on their lights, then called one row of the audience to file up to the stage so he could determine whether each person’s button was blue or green.

He pointed out that this was like having a single CPU check the contents of a drive.  He then asked why things should work this way – wouldn’t it be more sensible to Continue reading

White Paper: Using Flash as Memory

DRAM, Flash, and HDD HierarchyToday NAND flash is being shoehorned into HDD formats simply because it is persistent – the data doesn’t disappear when the lights go out.  This approach fails to take advantage of NAND’s greatest strength – its low cost relative to DRAM – and this prevents it from fully meeting the needs of most data centers.

Since 2004 NAND has been cheaper than DRAM, and today its price per gigabyte is an order of magnitude lower than that of DRAM.  NAND is cheaper and slower than DRAM, and HDD is cheaper and slower than NAND.

A role better suited to NAND flash technology is Continue reading

Video: How SSDs are Made

Micron SSD VideoMicron Technology has produced a very good four-minute video that shows how SSDs are made.  It starts with the design & manufacture of the NAND flash chips themselves and goes right through their assembly into SSDs, interspersing videos of manufacturing processes with graphics of the product’s operation.

This is on the SSD Guy’s recommended YouTube videos list.  Check it out by clicking:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZJzLQJMdXs

19nm & 20nm SSDs Arrive!

Toshiba 19nm vs. IMFT 20nm NAND Processes (Courtesey Techinsights and Toshiba)SSD-watchers have expressed some concern over the last few years that  SSDs cannot be manufactured using advanced NAND flash process geometries.  This is because these parts have lower endurance and a larger number of bit errors than NAND made using less-advanced processes – the tighter the process, the shorter the flash’s life, and the more errors it will have.

Fortunately these concerns seem to be Continue reading

DensBits Debuts with eMMC Controller

DensBits Promises Higher Performance While Reducing CostDensBits, a flash memory controller company, has just introduced its new DB3610 “Memory Modem” eMMC controller for 3-bit or TLC flash.  The controller is the first to use DensBits’ new technology which the company claims can coax better reliability out of 3-bit flash than most controllers can out of 2-bit MLC, to provide important cost savings to OEMs.

Read and write performance is also said to be nearly on a par with 2-bit MLC.

DensBits’ Memory Modem is a blend of Continue reading