Viking SATADIMM: Nand flash SATA SSD in DDR3 DIMM slot?

August 12, 2013 – 7:46 pm

Storage I/O trends

Today computer and data storage memory vendor Viking announced that SSD vendor Solidfire has deployed their SATADIMM modules in DDR3 DIMM (e.g. Random Access Memory (RAM) main memory) slots of their SF SSD based storage solution.

solidfire ssd storage with satadimm
Solidfire SD solution with SATADIMM via Viking

Nand flash SATA SSD in a DDR3 DIMM slot?

Per Viking, Solidfire uses the SATADIMM as boot devices and cache to complement the normal SSD drives used in their SF SSD storage grid or cluster. For those not familiar, Solidfire SF storage systems or appliances are based on industry standard servers that are populated with SSD devices which in turn are interconnected with other nodes (servers) to create a grid or cluster of SSD performance and space capacity. Thus as nodes are added, more performance, availability and capacity are also increased all of which are accessed via iSCSI. Learn more about Solidfire SD solutions on their website here.

Here is the press release that Viking put out today:

Viking Technology SATADIMM Increases SSD Capacity in SolidFire’s Storage System (Press Release)

Viking Technology’s SATADIMM enables higher total SSD capacity for SolidFire systems, offering cloud infrastructure providers an optimized and more powerful solution

FOOTHILL RANCH, Calif., August 12, 2013 – Viking Technology, an industry leading supplier of Solid State Drives (SSDs), Non-Volatile Dual In-line Memory Module (NVDIMMs), and DRAM, today announced that SolidFire has selected its SATADIMM SSD as both the cache SSD and boot volume SSD for their storage nodes. Viking Technology’s SATADIMM SSD enables SolidFire to offer enhanced products by increasing both the number and the total capacity of SSDs in their solution.

“The Viking SATADIMM gives us an additional SSD within the chassis allowing us to dedicate more drives towards storage capacity, while storing boot and metadata information securely inside the system,” says Adam Carter, Director of Product Management at SolidFire. “Viking’s SATADIMM technology is unique in the market and an important part of our hardware design.”

SATADIMM is an enterprise-class SSD in a Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM) form factor that resides within any empty DDR3 DIMM socket. The drive enables SSD caching and boot capabilities without using a hard disk drive bay. The integration of Viking Technology’s SATADIMM not only boosts overall system performance but allows SolidFire to minimize potential human errors associated with data center management, such as accidentally removing a boot or cache drive when replacing an adjacent failed drive.

“We are excited to support SolidFire with an optimal solid state solution that delivers increased value to their customers compared to traditional SSDs,” says Adrian Proctor, VP of Marketing, Viking Technology. “SATADIMM is a solid state drive that takes advantage of existing empty DDR3 sockets and provides a valuable increase in both performance and capacity.”

SATADIMM is a 6Gb SATA SSD with capacities up to 512GB. A next generation SAS solution with capacities of 1TB & 2TB will be available early in 2014. For more information, visit our website www.vikingtechnology.com or email us at sales@vikingtechnology.com.

Sales information is available at: www.vikingtechnology.com, via email at sales@vikingtechnology.com or by calling (949) 643-7255.

About Viking Technology Viking Technology is recognized as a leader in NVDIMM technology. Supporting a broad range of memory solutions that bridge DRAM and SSD, Viking delivers solutions to OEMs in the enterprise, high-performance computing, industrial and the telecommunications markets. Viking Technology is a division of Sanmina Corporation (Nasdaq: SANM), a leading Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) provider. More information is available at www.vikingtechnology.com.

About SolidFire SolidFire is the market leader in high-performance data storage systems designed for large-scale public and private cloud infrastructure. Leveraging an all-flash scale-out architecture with patented volume-level quality of service (QoS) control, providers can now guarantee storage performance to thousands of applications within a shared infrastructure. In-line data reduction techniques along with system-wide automation are fueling new block-storage services and advancing the way the world uses the cloud.

What’s inside the press release

On the surface this might cause some to jump to the conclusion that the nand flash SSD is being accessed via the fast memory bus normally used for DRAM (e.g. main memory) of a server or storage system controller. For some this might even cause a jump to conclusion that Viking has figured out a way to use nand flash for reads and writes not only via a DDR3 DIMM memory location, as well as doing so with the Serial ATA (SATA) protocol enabling server boot and use by any operating system or hypervisors (e.g. VMware vSphere or ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Xen or KVM among others).

Note for those not familiar or needing a refresh on DRAM, DIMM and related items, here is an excerpt from Chapter 7 (Servers – Physical, Virtual and Software) from my book "The Green and Virtual Data Center" (CRC Press).

7.2.2 Memory

Computers rely on some form of memory ranging from internal registers, local on-board processor Level 1 (L1) and Level 2 (L2) caches, random accessible memory (RAM), non-volatile RAM (NVRAM) or Flash along with external disk storage. Memory, which includes external disk storage, is used for storing operating system software along with associated tools or utilities, application programs and data. Read more of the excerpt here…

Is SATADIMM memory bus nand flash SSD storage?

In short no.

Some vendors or their surrogates might be tempted to spin such a story by masking some details to allow your imagination to run wild a bit. When I saw the press release announcement I reached out to Tinh Ngo (Director Marketing Communications) over at Viking with some questions. I was expecting the usual marketing spin story, dancing around the questions with long answers or simply not responding with anything of substance (or that requires some substance to believe). Again what I found was the opposite and thus want to share with you some of the types of questions and answers.

So what actually is SATADIMM? See for yourself in the following image (click on it to view or Viking site).

Viking dimm flash

Via Viking website, click on image or here to learn more about SATADIMM

Does SATADIMM actually move data via DDR3 and memory bus? No, SATADIMM only draws power from it (yes nand flash does need power when in use contrary to a myth I was told about).

Wait, then how is data moved and how does it get to and through the SATA IO stack (hardware and software)?

Simple, there is a cable connector that attached to the SATADIMM that in turn attached to an internal SATA port. Or using a different connector cable attach the SATADIMM (up to four) to a standard SAS internal port such as on a main board, HBA, RAID or caching adapter.

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Does that mean that Viking and who ever uses SATADIMM is not actually moving data or implementing SATA via the memory bus and DDR3 DIMM sockets? That would be correct, data movement occurs via cable connection to standard SATA or SAS ports.

Wait, why would I give up a DDR3 DIMM socket in my server that could be used for more DRAM? Great question and one that should be it depends on if you need more DRAM or more nand flash? If you are out of drive slots or PCIe card slots and have enough DRAM for your needs along with available DDR3 slots, you can stuff more nand flash into those locations assuming you have SAS or SATA connectivity.

satadimm
SATADIMM with SATA connector top right via Viking

satadimm sata connector
SATADIMM SATA connector via Viking

satadimm sas connector
SATADIMM SAS (Internal) connector via Viking

Why not just use the onboard USB ports and plug-in some high-capacity USB thumb drives to cut cost? If that is your primary objective it would probably work and I can also think of some other ways to cut cost. However those are also probably not the primary tenants that people looking to deploy something like SATADIMM would be looking for.

What are the storage capacities that can be placed on the SATADIMM? They are available in different sizes up to 400GB for SLC and 480GB for MLC. Viking indicated that there are larger capacities and faster 12Gb SAS interfaces in the works which would be more of a surprise if there were not. Learn more about current product specifications here.

Good questions. Attached are three images that sort of illustrates the connector. As well, why not a USB drive; well, there are customers that put 12 of these in the system (with up to 480GB usable capacity) that equates to roughly an added 5.7TBs inside the box without touching the drive bays (left for mass HDD’s). You will then need to raid/connect) all the SATADIMM via a HBA.

How fast is the SATADIMM and does putting it into a DDR3 slot speed things up or slow them down? Viking has some basic performance information on their site (here). However generally should be the same or similar to reach a SAS or SATA SSD drive, although keep SSD metrics and performance in the proper context. Also keep in mind that the DDR3 DIMM slot is only being used for power and not real data movement.

Is the SATADIMM using 3Gbs or 6Gbs SATA? Good questions, today is 6Gb SATA (remember that SATA can attach to a SAS port however not vise versa). Lets see if Viking responds in the comments with more including RAID support (hardware or software) along with other insight such as UNMAP, TRIM, Advanced Format (AF) 4KByte blocks among other things.

Have I actually tried SATADIMM yet? No, not yet. However would like to give it a test drive and workout if one were to show up on my doorstep along with disclosure and share the results if applicable.

industry trend

Future of nand flash in DRAM DIMM sockets

Keep in mind that someday nand flash will actually seem not only in a Webex or Powerpoint demo preso (e.g. similar to what Diablo Technology is previewing), as well as in real use for example what Micron earlier this year predicted for flash on DDR4 (more DDR3 vs. DDR4 here).

Is SATADIMM the best nand flash SSD approach for every solution or environment? No, however it does give some interesting options for those who are PCIe card, or HDD and SSD drive slot constrained that also have available DDR3 DIMM sockets. As to price, check with Viking, wish I could say tell them Greg from StorageIO sent you for a good value, however not sure what they would say or do.

Related more reading:
How much storage performance do you want vs. need?
Can RAID extend the life of nand flash SSD?
Can we get a side of context with them IOPS and other storage metrics?
SSD & Real Estate: Location, Location, Location
What is the best kind of IO? The one you do not have to do
SSD, flash and DRAM, DejaVu or something new?

Ok, nuff said (for now).

Cheers
Gs

Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)


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