IBM Goes Modular And Flashy With X6 Systems – Timothy Prickett Morgan

The memory channel storage modules were developed by SanDisk in conjunction with Diablo Technologies, and are called UltraDIMM by SanDisk. The modules put flash memory created by SanDisk (which has a flash partnership with Toshiba) that has a SATA interface on a memory stick. Diablo has created a chipset that converts the SATA protocol to the DDR3 main memory protocol, and SanDisk has created a driver for a server BIOS that makes it look like a normal disk storage device to the system and its operating system. (Enterprise Tech – Timothy Prickett Morgan)
Image representing Diablo Technologies as depi...
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Big news, big news coming to a server near you. A new form factor Flash Memory product has been secretly developed and is being sampled by folks out East in the High Frequency Stock Trading market (the top of the food chain in IT needs for latency speed of transactions). Timothy Prickett Morgan (formerly of The Register) has included details from IBM‘s big annoouncement of its Intel based X6 series servers. This new form factor is the result of a memory controller made by Diablo Technologies. SanDisk has engineered the actual final product that ties the memory into the Diablo designed memory controller. However this product is not available on the open market and has been going through sampling and testing with possible high end end users and customers who have need for such a large, high speed product in a DDR DRAM memory module. Sizes, and speeds are pretty large all around. The base modules come in 200GB or 400GB form factors and fit a typical DDR-3 DIMM module. IBM and SanDisk have done a number of special tweaks on the software/firmware to pull the most I/O with the lowest latency out of these modules when installed on an X6 server. The first-gen X6 will have roughly 12 DIMM slots available with some DRAM and Ultra-DIMMs populating those slots. However things get REALLY interesting when the second-gen X6 hits the market. IBM will be doubling the amount of DIMM slots to 24 and will be upping the core count available on the 4U top of the line x6 server. When that product hits the market the Ultra-DIMM will be able to populate the majority of the DIMM slots and really start to tear it up I think when it comes to I/O and analytics processing. SanDisk is the exclusive supplier, manufacturer and engineering outfit for this product for IBM with no indication yet of when/if they would ever sell it to another OEM server manufacturer.

Given the promise this technology has and that an outfit like Diablo Technologies is vaugely reminiscent of an upstart like SandForce who equally upset the Flash Memory market about 6 years ago, we’re likely to see a new trend. SATA SSDs are still slowly creeping into the consumer market, PCIe Flash memory products are being adopted by the top end consumer market (Apple’s laptops and the newest desktops). Now we’ve got yet another Flash memory product that could potentiall sweep the market the Ultra-DIMM. It will however take some time and some competing technology to help push this along (SandForce was the only game in town early on and early adopters help subsidize the late adopters with higher prices). Given how pared back and stripped down DIMM slots are generally in the consumer market it may be a while before we see any manufacturers attempt to push Ultra-DIMM as a consumer product. Same goes for the module sizes as they are shipped today. Example: the iMac 27″, Apple has gone from being easily upgraded (back in the Silver Tower, G4 CPU days) to nearly not upgradeable (MacBook Air) and the amount of space needed in their cases to allow for addition or customization through an Ultra-DIMM add-on would be severly constrained. It might be something that could be added as a premium option for the newest Mac Pro towers. And even then that’s very hopeful and wishful thinking on my part. But who knows how quickly this new form factor and memory controller design will infiltrate the computer market? It is seemingly a better moustrap in the sense of the boost one sees in performance on a more similar, more commoditized Intel infrastructure. Wait and see what happens.

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