Saturday, July 13, 2024

Intel Optane: The Best Technology We Don’t Talk About

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I’ve been fascinated with Intel’s Optane memory ever since it launched. Promising and delivering on performance and capabilities that combined the non-volatile elements of flash with a performance that approached system memory, it seemed to be a massive game-changer for both the desktop and in storage. 

There are an impressive number of products that use this technology form: Dell, HPE, MemVerge, NetApp, Pure Storage, and Vast Data, all reporting near impossible performance numbers. Yet, instead of taking the market by storm, we rarely talk about this technology, and this seeming lack of interest has harmed what should have been world-beating sales potential. 

Let’s talk about why we aren’t hearing more about Optane solutions this week.

The Storage Market And The Advocacy Problem

I spent several years working in this market, both as an employee at IBM and as a storage analyst, and this is a segment that doesn’t care much for new revolutionary technologies, with a couple of exceptions. We do have advancements because we have moved mainly from tape and rotating media (CDs and hard drives) to SSDs, but that move was over decades. It didn’t appear to lag the rapid deployment of new technologies we see in Networking, processors, and GPUs.  

The reason for this concern is the value of the data is so incredibly high that it forces IT, decision-makers, into a very conservative decision matrix.  Perhaps one of the most conservative in the industry. The cost associated with data loss makes taking a risk on new technology problematic. 

However, several segments will take this risk and do. They are financial trading companies, military, engineering, and animation. But if that is the case, why isn’t there more vigorous advocacy for Optane? 

Financial trading loves Optane, but this is an incredibly competitive market, so the IT managers don’t like to share what they are doing for a competitive advantage. The military is, by nature, unsharring, and their implementation process is often so long and their uses so unique that they typically make bad advocates. Engineers and animators generally rely on their software providers to dictate hardware, which is certified for use. 

But, for some reason, those recommendations rarely include storage and are more focused on CPU and GPU compatibility. This lack of storage focus is true even though storage, particularly for large projects, is often the larger bottleneck. But storage tends to be agnostic to the software, so there is no need to spec it; thus, the critical advocates for those industries just don’t engage. 

So this very conservative industry which requires strong advocacy can’t seem to get it because the segments that most like the technology are either poor at advocacy in general or aren’t set up to advocate storage. But this also means that companies that need this performance and spend the time to understand this technology could gain a sustained competitive edge by using Optane if they need better storage performance. 

Wrapping Up

It is unusual to have a revolutionary high-performance technology that has been successful in the market so little known. But that is the historic nature of storage technology. Still, for the informed buyer, it also provides an opportunity for a competitive advantage without having to do the development yourself.  Most of the major storage vendors have Optane solutions, and they are well-vetted and wrapped with appropriate services to make sure you won’t be disappointed. 

I’m particularly taken by how well this should enhance animation and engineering markets, due to Optane’s ability to retain large files and datasets in memory safely without the risk of loss due to a power outage. By the way, while I focused on this technology applied to a storage appliance, what is also being missed is the number of engineers and animators working from home. They often don’t have reliable power and have kids and pets running around who may inadvertently pull plugs. 

For them, both the ability to work on large files in memory and not risk losing their work should be far more attractive in this post-COVID-19 world.  If you are interested, apparently there are some Optane workstations for just this sort of audience on the market (that I just found out about). Go figure.

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