Micron Pulls No Punches, Claims 'World’s Fastest SSD'

eWEEK NEWS AND PRODUCT ANALYSIS: All in a day's work: Data memory and chipmaker unveils first 3D XPoint commercial product, new SSDs, a new AI platform and a cloud-based security service.

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Micron Insight sign 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Data memory device and processor maker Micron Technology issued a lot of news Oct. 24, making five major announcements at its international Insight 2019 conference here at Pier 27 on the waterfront.

The news included the following:

  • Micron’s first commercial product built on the 3D XPoint nonvolatile memory technology, originally developed in cooperation with Intel. This would be what Micron unabashedly calls “the world’s fastest SSD (solid-state disk),” the X100 SSD. The Micron X100 SSD is the first solution in a line of products from Micron targeting storage- and memory-intensive applications for the data center. These products will use the strengths of 3D XPoint technology–which stacks up the silicon to result in a thicker, more powerful chip–and usher in a new tier in the memory-to-storage hierarchy with higher capacity and persistence than DRAM, along with higher endurance and performance than NAND flash.
  • Micron launched a new set of high-performance hardware and software tools for AI and deep-learning applications following the acquisition of FWDNXT, a software and hardware startup. When combined with Micron memory, FWDNXT’s (pronounced “forward next”) artificial intelligence hardware and software technology enables Micron to offer deep learning solution packages required for data analytics, particularly in IoT and edge computing. With this acquisition, Micron can integrate compute, memory, tools and software into a single AI development platform. This platform in turn provides the key building blocks required to explore innovative memory optimized for AI workloads, Micron said.
  • Micron unveiled a set of new solid-state drives (SSDs) for both consumer and enterprise storage customers. The new 7300 NVMe series and 5300 SATA series of SSDs are designed to enable enterprises to modernize and maximize return on their data center investments.
  • The Boise, Idaho-based company entered the security software business via its new Authenta Key Management Service. Micron bills this as “the industry’s first silicon-based security-as-a-service platform.” This package guards IoT devices through cloud-based activation of secure element-like functionality integrated into NOR and NAND flash, the company said.
  • Finally, Micron announced its entry into the consumer portable SSD market with the launch of its Crucial X8 Portable SSD.

We’ll go into a bit of depth on the key developments.

3D XPoint: Micron’s Front-and-Center Project

eWEEK has covered this development closely over the years. After completing more than a half-dozen years of early co-development, Micron and Intel severed relations on 3D XPoint in July 2018 to go their separate ways on commercializing the super-fast new memory chips. 3D XPoint is an entirely different architecture that has shown that it improves data movement by orders of magnitude. Four years ago, 3D Xpoint was hailed as potentially the biggest advancement in solid-state processors since the advent of Toshiba’s NAND flash chips in 1989. Since the release of 3D XPoint in late 2016, the product has been selling in modest numbers, largely because issues developed involving heat and other factors that stalled advancement of the product. Those problems now have been fixed, the company said.

Nonetheless, the joint project has resulted in the development of an entirely new class of non-volatile memory with lower latency and exponentially greater endurance than NAND memory.

“With 3D XPoint, we see another significant, differentiated part of the memory and storage hierarchy,” Micron Senior Vice-President Tom Eby, who runs Micron’s compute and networking business units, told eWEEK. “Every time one you come up with one of those, it will tend to eat away a little bit at the technologies on either side (DRAM and NAND flash SSDs) but grow the overall pot. It has greater performance and endurance than NAND, and greater capacity and persistence than DRAM.”

This is Micron’s first 3D XPoint storage device (the first of which will have 750 GB capacity), whether PCIe- and NVME (nonvolatile memory)-based, Eby said. “We see significant performance advantage versus any other 3D XPoint- or NAND-based device out there, across a range of both sequential and random read/write devices. We’re seeing between a 3.5X to 5X benefit (reads), and 10X benefit (writes),” Eby said, comparing the performance of the new devices with those of competitors, such as Intel.

As one might imagine, this state-of-the-art memory processing is aimed at high-bandwidth, high-performance, low-latency type applications, such as AI/ML, fintech, scientific, military and government app use cases.

Micron lists the business advantages of the 3D XPoint device as follows:

  • High-performance local storage: offers up to 2.5 million input/output operations per second (IOPs), more than three times faster than today’s competitive SSD offerings
  • Industry’s highest bandwidth: has more than 9GB/s bandwidth in read, write and mixed modes and is up to three times faster than today’s competitive NAND offerings
  • Ultralow latency: provides consistent read-write latency that is 11 times better than NAND SSDs
  • Application acceleration: enables two to four times the improvements in end-user experience for various applications with prevalent data center workloads
  • High-performance in small size storage: eliminates the need for overprovisioning storage for performance
  • Ease of adoption: because the Micron X100 SSD uses the standard NVMe interface, requires no changes to software to receive the full benefits of the product

The X100 SSD will be used in limited sampling with select customers this quarter, Micron said.

FWDNXT Combines Memory, Compute with Deep Learning

FWDNXT provides efficient and high-performance hardware and software solutions based on deep learning and neural networks. As companies develop more complex AI and machine learning systems, the hardware used to train and run those models becomes increasingly important.

Micron’s Deep Learning Accelerator (DLA) technology, powered by the AI inference engine from FWDNXT, equips Micron with the tools to observe, assess and ultimately develop innovation that brings memory and computing closer together, resulting in higher performance and lower power. Micron said its DLA technology provides an easy-to-use software programmable platform that supports a broad range of machine learning frameworks and neural networks and allows for processing vast amounts of data quickly in an easy-to-use interface.

Micron’s DLA can consume massive amounts of data and then return insights that launch discoveries. For example, Micron is collaborating with doctors and researchers at Oregon Health & Science University to use convolutional neural networks (CNNs) running on DLA to process and analyze 3D electron microscopy images. The goal of this collaboration is to discover new insights for treating cancer. Micron is also partnering with physicists at leading nuclear research organizations who are experimenting with DLA-based CNNs to classify the results of high energy-particle collisions in near real time and detect rare particle interactions that are believed to occur in nature.

Authenta Key Management Service

This new cloud-based service complements existing efforts to protect IoT networks through secure element functions in Authenta-enabled standard flash devices. Authenta KMS security-as-a-service platform allows installed secure flash devices to be activated and managed at the edge through a cloud-based service. This capability enables platform-hardening and device protection through the entire lifecycle, extending from the manufacturing supply chain to in-field installation and management.

Authenta KMS and applicable software development kits are available to Micron customers today.

96-Layer Micron 7300 NVMe Series SSDs

The Micron 7300 NVMe series of SSDs are designed for workloads that demand high throughput and low latency. They are ideal for commonly used mixed read-write, compute and virtualized tasks such as SQL and NoSQL, for hyperconverged infrastructures, and for compute-centric cloud platforms. The use of 96-layer 3D TLC NAND technology brings cost and power efficiencies while the drives offer end-to-end data path protection, power-loss protection, secure firmware and instant secure erase capability.

The 7300 NVMe devices come in a wide variety of form factors, capacities and endurance levels. The drives will be available for ordering starting in December. The 7300 series of drives complement Micron’s existing data center portfolio, which includes the high-performance 9300 NVMe SSDs announced earlier this year.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...