Gen-Z Consortium prepares for the future of storage and memory

— 9:00 AM on October 12, 2016

AMD, Lenovo, IBM, and a host of other big names in computing have joined together to form the Gen-Z Consortium. The group is working together to create an "open systems interconnect" known as Gen-Z that aims to bridge the gap between memory and storage. Specifically, Gen-Z is a "fabric protocol" that allows systems to abstract all types of memory and storage, both local and networked, as Gen-Z devices.

Essentially, the idea is to allow software to access any type of storage as memory using low-latency, high-efficiency operations. To that end, the new protocol is "memory-semantic." That means that all operations are performed as if they were being done on system memory. Gen-Z will require hardware support, but the consortium says that it can be used with existing operating systems and software without modification.

The new fabric protocol is being developed because the consortium sees systems moving from the current two-tier model (fast DRAM and slow drives) to a three-tiered model where an intermediate layer of "storage-class memory" sits between the two. The group says this new memory class will be composed of new technologies like MRAM and 3DXPoint. These technologies aren't fast enough to replace DRAM as main memory, but the consortium thinks they will be poorly served by traditional storage-class access protocols.

According to the consortium, Gen-Z will support "a wide variety of component types, including processors, memory modules, FPGAs, GPUs, DSP, I/O, accelerators, NICs, custom ASICs, and many more." The project has many goals, and the consortium claims its design has huge benefits for performance, scalability, and interoperability. 

Perhaps the best thing about Gen-Z is that the consortium is developing Gen-Z as a completely open standard. Member companies will recieve draft specifications as they are developed, and will be able to provide feedback. The group will also be periodically releasing drafts and proposals to non-members to elicit feedback. While there is currently no release date, the group says that the full standard will be released for free to members and non-members.

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