Intel's Optane Memory tech showcases what 3D Xpoint memory can do on a limited scale, but the potential for Optane extends well beyond hard-drive acceleration. Intel began shipping Optane DIMMs to partners for testing early this year, and yesterday the company committed to delivering Optane DIMMs as a product called "Intel persistent memory" alongside a refresh of its Xeon Processor Scalable family called Cascade Lake. Both the persistent memory product and Cascade Lake CPUs will arrive sometime in 2018.
An Optane DIMM. Source: Intel
Intel says that Optane DIMMs will upend the traditional "small, volatile, and expensive" view of system memory by providing a much denser and persistent way of putting data close to the processor, all at lower prices than DRAM. The company showed off these potential benefits at the SAP Sapphire conference by running the ERP giant's HANA analytics tool on a pool of Optane DIMMs. Intel says that for in-memory database apps like HANA, these DIMMs will be a no-brainer for improving performance because of the much larger data sets they'll put closer to CPUs.
Without a doubt, Intel Optane DIMMs have the potential to reshape how we think about computer architecture in general. That said, questions about whether 3D Xpoint is ready to endure memory-like workloads have dogged the technology since its commercial introduction earlier this year. Presumably, Intel is taking time to improve the fundamental characteristics of the medium before it begins large-scale deployment of the tech in a DIMM form factor. Still, the fact that Optane DIMMs are up and running is a promising sign for Intel's convergent vision of DRAM and persistent storage.