Storage class RAM – even more expensive than expected

A pile of bank notes against a background of binary code

Posted on Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Storage class RAM is still in its infancy, but the need for faster data access means that OEMs are devoting plenty of resources to bringing such systems mainstream. HPE are even working on a ‘limitless RAM’ supercomputer, designed to hold entire applications and datasets in memory, permanently.

As with all cutting edge technologies, systems built using storage class RAM like Intel Optane are expected to be lavishly expensive. Performance has always come at a cost – consider the per gigabyte disparity between magnetic and flash disks for instance.

Are we underestimating storage class RAM costs?

Early adopters are well used to paying a significant premium for access to the latest features and benefits. Few will be surprised at the ticket price for storage class RAM when it hits the market.

However they may be overlooking one significant issue – application performance.

‘A non-trivial undertaking’

Oracle hired a team of computer scientists to look at the potential benefits of these new RAM-based technologies. Unsurprisingly they reported significant speed increases – but they also discovered several major pitfalls.

Most of these problems are down to the application architecture being used. Among their findings were “challenges mapping persistent files, difficulty knowing what data is worth storing in persistent memory, unexpected interactions between persistent and non-persistent data, traps that may see coders impose unwelcome overheads on applications and all sorts of new challenges in terms of how and when to let threads have their turn at memory.”

Their conclusion? “Overall, a major port of any complex application will likely be a non-trivial undertaking even though it may not seem so in the beginning.”

Obviously these issues will add significantly to the cost of deploying storage-class RAM. CTOs will need to budget for expensive new hardware and application development services from consultants with hard-to-find skillsets.

A terrifyingly expensive conclusion

The days of simply porting applications to newer hardware appear to be drawing to a close. To take advantage of Intel Optane and similar technologies, businesses are going to have to seriously assess their application architecture to ensure it is optimized for the new platforms – or risk losing many of the benefits they are paying for.

The Oracle team’s conclusion is ominous, “In the end, architecting such systems from scratch is likely the best approach.”

The industry will be watching early adopters closely to see how these challenges are overcome.

Next steps

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