Intel Optane – Challenges and Triumphs

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 21.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Intel recently presented at Storage Field Day 21. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Alive and Kicking

Kristie Mann, Sr. Director Products, Intel Optane Group, kicked off the session by telling us that “Intel Optane is alive and well”. I don’t think anyone thought it was really going away, particularly given the effort that folks inside Intel have gone to to get this product to market. But from a consumer perspective, it’s potentially been a little confusing.

[image courtesy of Intel]

In terms of data centre penetration, it’s been a different story, and taking Optane from idea to reality has been quite a journey. It was also noted that the “strong uptake of PMem in HPC was unexpected”, but no doubt welcome.

 

Learnings

Some of the other learnings that were covered as part of the session were as follows.

Software Really Matters

It’s one thing to come out with some super cool hardware that is absolutely amazing, but it’s quite another to get software support for that hardware. Unfortunately, the hardware doesn’t give you much without the software, no matter how well it performs. While this has been something of a challenge for Optane until recent times, there’s definitely been more noise from the big ISVs about enhanced Optane support.

IaaS Adoption

Adoption in IaaS has not been great, mainly due to some uneven performance. This will only improve as the software support matures. But the IaaS market can be tough for a bunch of reasons. IaaS vendors are trying to do a things at a certain price point. That doesn’t mean that they’re still making people run VMs on spinning disk (hopefully), but rolling out All-Flash support for platforms is something that’s only going to be done when the $/GB makes sense for the providers. You also might have seen in the field that IaaS providers are pretty particular about performance and quality of service. It makes sense when you’re trying to host a whole bunch of different workloads at large scale. So it makes sense that they’d be somewhat cautious about launching new media types on their platforms without running through a whole bunch of performance and integration testing. I’m not saying they’re not going to get there, they just may not be the first cabs off the rank.

Can you spell OEM?

OEM qualifications have been slow to date with Optane. This is key to getting the product out there. Enterprise folks don’t like to buy things until their favourite Tier 1 vendors are offering it as a default option in their server / storage array / fabric switch. If Dell has the Optane Inside sticker (not a real thing, but you know what I mean), the infrastructure architects inside large government entities are more likely to get on board.

Battling The Status Quo

Status quo thinking makes it hard to understand this isn’t just memory or storage. This has been something of a problem for Intel since Optane became a thing. I’m still having conversations with people and running up against significant confusion about the difference between PMem and Optane SSD. I think that’s going to improve as time goes on, but it can make things difficult when it comes to broad market penetration.

Thoughts and Further Reading

I don’t want people reading this to think that I’m down on Intel and what it’s done with Optane. If anything, I’m really into it. I enjoyed the presentation at Storage Field Day 21 tremendously, and not just because my friend Howard was on the panel repping VAST Data. It’s unusual that a vendor as big as Intel would be so frank about some of the challenges that it’s faced with getting new media to market. But I think it’s the willingness to share some of this information that demonstrates how committed Intel is to Optane moving forward. I was lucky enough to speak to Intel Senior Fellow Al Fazio about the Optane journey, and it was clear that there’s a whole lot of innovation and sweat that goes into making a product like this work.

Some folks think that these panel presentations are marketing disguised as a presentation. Invariably, the reference customers are friendly with the company, and you’ll only ever hear good stories. But I think those stories from those customers are still extremely powerful. After all, having a customer jump on a session to tell the world about how good your product has been means you’ve done something right. As a consumer of these products, I find these kind of testimonials invaluable. Ultimately, products are successful in the market when they serve the market’s needs. From what I can see, Intel Optane is on its way to meeting those needs, and it has a bright future.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.