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By Chris Sciacca

Ioannis Koltsidas, IBM Research Staff Member in Storage Systems Research

Ioannis Koltsidas, IBM Research Staff Member in Storage Systems Research

Theseus was a great hero in Greek mythology known for qualities such as strength, courage and wisdom. Therefore it’s no surprise that a team of Greek IBM scientists in Zurich and Professor Theodore Antonakopoulos and his team from the University of Patras, Greece, borrowed his name as a codeword for a groundbreaking new memory technology, which combines flash with phase change memory (PCM) on a PCI-e card. Initial tests have clocked 12x and 275x improvements — and that’s no myth.

While flash is ubiquitous in everything from USB sticks to data centers, PCM is still relatively unknown.

First proposed for memory in the 1970s, phase-change materials, the premise of the technology, exhibit two metastable states which can store data when placed between two electrically conducting electrodes. When a high or medium current is applied to the material, it can be programmed to write a ‘0’ in the amorphous phase or a ‘1’ in the crystalline phase. A low current is then applied to read out the cells to access the data. Blue ray discs are an example of a phase change material.

But IBM scientists have bigger plans for phase-change materials than just storing movies. They see it as a critical piece of the overall storage hierarchy to improve the speed and endurance of enterprise-class systems to store and analyze Big Data.

When we take a closer look at the current memory landscape we find venerable DRAM, traditional hard disk drives and the popular flash, but each come with their own limitations. DRAM, which was invented by IBM scientist Bob Dennard in 1966, is a workhorse. But it experiences difficulties when scaled beyond 25 nanometers and is expensive per Gigabyte. DRAM also requires significant power consumption and is volatile, so when you unplug your device, you lose everything.

Anyone who grew up with a PC is familiar with hard disk drives or HDD. HDDs are mechanical, making them only suitable for certain applications. Additionally, they consume a lot of energy and their normalized I/O throughput (IOPS/GB) is orders of magnitude less that the other memory technologies, and decreasing continuously.
Due to these limitations flash memory revolutionized the storage hierarchy when it hit the market in the late 1980s and helped propel the growth of the consumer technology market with gadgets like portable music players, USB storage sticks and smartphones.

However, flash comes with its own scalability problems and when aggressively scaled, flash not only scores low in performance, but also in endurance. For example, current consumer class multi-level cell (MLC) flash tops out at 3,000 read/write cycles. This means after rewriting to your USB stick 3,000 times you will notice performance degradation, like lost data and errors. Enterprise class MLC, used for cloud data centers, can be scaled much higher with the support of complex wear-leveling and collection algorithms.

This reality leaves an open door for PCM due to its excellent and predictable performance in terms of throughput and latency, and high endurance and scalability. For example, when compared to flash, PCM can endure at least 10 million write cycles, but don’t expect PCM to replace flash, the two will work together.

IBM scientists for the first time demonstrated a hybrid storage and caching subsystem, code-named Project Theseus, at the recent 2014 Non-Volatile Memories Workshop in San Diego, California (see slides ). And the amazing achievement is that they were using two year old PCM chip prototypes.

IBM scientist Ioannis Kolsidas explains, “The technologies are complementary, which is why the Theseus project is so important. We took two very different memory technologies and made them work on an existing PCI-e bus, which can be found on any PC or laptop today, taking it a step closer from demo to deployment.”

When tested, the PCI-e card demonstrated remarkable results. In terms of write latency, it completed 99.9% of the requests within 240 microseconds – equal to one millionth of a second. The same experiment, carried out against an enterprise-class PCI-e flash card and a consumer-level flash SSD, yielded a 12x and 275x longer completion times for the best 99.9% of the requests.

Author Chris Sciacca, IBM Communications

Author Chris Sciacca, IBM Communications

Ioannis and his colleagues are already working on version 2.0 of this PCI-e card and they expect even faster performance with the latest PCM chips.

With this research and others, the team expects PCM to enter the market by 2016 for enterprise class applications like cloud computing and Big Data analytics. As the story goes, Theseus was able to single handily defeat a minotaur, therefore Big Data should be a piece of cake … or maybe baklava, in this case.

Follow Ioannis on Twitter @ikolt.

 

 

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10 Comments
 
October 14, 2014
2:25 am

My family members every time say that I am wasting my
time here at web, but I know I am getting familiarity
everyday by reading thes nice posts.


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July 29, 2014
12:53 pm

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She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!


Posted by: drive goes
 
May 21, 2014
10:20 pm

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a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great
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Posted by: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9jPBXN9a2g
 
May 18, 2014
9:26 am

thanx


Posted by: Restore My Vision Today Review
 
May 15, 2014
5:56 am

What was meant, is that a microsecond is “equal to one millionth of a second”..and thus 240 microsends is equal to 240 millionth of a second, around one 4000th of a second


Posted by: yes
 
May 13, 2014
8:31 am

who will build the phase change memory chips?


Posted by: Brad Jones
 
May 13, 2014
5:22 am

240 microseconds is not “equal to one millionth of a second”. It is close to a quarter of a millisecond, or one 4000th of a second.

There is such a thing as going too far in trying to dumb things down…


Posted by: womble
 
May 13, 2014
2:57 am

Awesome innovation. Just one small point, ‘Single handedly’ not ‘Single handily’


Posted by: Paul Markham
 
May 13, 2014
2:54 am

Luckily this happens only ibm somewhere far away from greece and the greek “hut” which successfully its management has turned it like that..


Posted by: Jim
 
May 12, 2014
9:55 am

Looking forward to owning a piece of IBM ingenuity in 2016.


Posted by: Jorge Rivera
 
5 Trackbacks
 
May 9, 2014
1:39 pm

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May 9, 2014
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May 8, 2014
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May 8, 2014
3:31 pm

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Posted by: IBM cria unidade de armazenamento até 275 vezes mais rápida que um SSD comum
 
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