IBM stirs Lenovo Optane into its Bluemix cloud

Optimism on Optane with 4X better throughput than Intel P3700 NAND SSD

Analysis Lenovo x86 servers fitted with Intel Optane SSDs will be available by the end of the year.

According to this blog they will be used in IBM's public cloud, Bluemix, for customers to check out Optane performance, being made available free of charge on so-called innovator testbeds, and installed in IBM's Bluemix data centres.

The blog claims:

Intel Optane technology promises to change the face of computing with an unparalleled combination of low latency, very high endurance, and very high quality of service at extremely high and balanced read and write IOPS.

Example application areas are blockchain, quantum compute simulations, cloud-assisted autonomous navigation workloads, high-frequency trading, realtime analytics/databases, and cloud gaming.

Intel is contributing to these testbeds and IBM says the Optane SSDs deliver high IOPS at low queue depths, and have higher endurance than NAND SSDs.

IBM Bluemix marketing manager John Le writes that an Optane-fitted server can run more virtual machines (VMs) with guaranteed service levels and provide high IOPS per VM. Example SSD-optimised database workloads can experience a fourfold throughput improvement at drive level when using Optane SSDs instead of Intel's P3700 NAND-based SSDs.

The P3700 is a PCIe-connected SSD (NVMe) using 20nm MLC flash, and comes in capacities of 400GB, 800GB, 1.6TB and 2TB. It does random read/write IOPS at up to 450,000/175,000 and its sequential read/write bandwidth is up to 2.8GBps and 2GBps respectively. We understand its latency is 20μs for writes and 85μs for reads.

Its endurance is up to 62.05PB written, meaning 17DWPD/5 years. This is not a slow SSD nor one that will wear out quickly.

We note that IBM, and Intel, are saying that example database workloads on a server with an Optane SSD have four times more throughput at drive level than one with P3700 SSD, not revealing the read/write mix or the block size. We assume, perhaps wrongly, that this is at equivalent capacity levels.

So let's go with this and say that, assuming 4K block sizes, and a 4X improvement for both reading and writing, the Optane SSD has (4 x 2.8) = 11.2GB/sec sequential read bandwidth, a startling figure, and (4 x2) = 8GB/sec write bandwidth; equally startling. This seems a bit of a stretch, and therefore unlikely.

We're going to assume as well that the random read/write IOPS are higher than the P3700's as well, and that Optane's latency is lower, perhaps 10μs for writes. And its endurance may be higher than Intel's P3700 as well.

At this point we'll stop trying to derive Optane SSD performance characteristics from IBM's blog as it's getting into far-fetched territory.

Bluemix will extend this Optane testbed activity by offering what IBM calls a broad services suite in the second half of 2017. Presumably, though this isn't spelled out, it will also use Lenovo Optane servers. ®

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