Flash Memory Summit 2020: Tech hints on computational storage, ruler drives and Smart NICs

The annual Flash Memory Summit has gone virtual and a freshly unveiled agenda provides tantalising hints about what’s coming and what may not be coming down the storage pike.

The first thing to catch our eye was session A-9: Computational Storage Increases System Throughput and Scalability (Computational Storage Track). The computational storage idea is to stick small processors (ASICs, FPGAs or Arm CPUs) and software on SSDs to carry out low-level and repetitive storage tasks such as encryption, compression, deduplication and video transcoding.

Andy Walls.

Startups such as Eideticom, NGD and ScaleFlux are developing products. The track is being organised by JB Baker, senior director of product management at ScaleFlux, and there are three presenters: chief scientist Chuck Sobey from consultancy Channel Science, Eideticom CTO Stephen Bates, and IBM fellow and flash storage CTO and chief architect Andy Walls.

It was intriguing to see Walls listed there, as IBM has expressed no public interest in computational storage and has no product yet. Is that going to change? Walls’ bio says: “He is currently defining next-generation products that can be used in traditional SAN environments and clouds, and also by emerging workloads.” 

The second eye catcher was Session D-8: Using the New EDSFF (E3) SSDs Effectively (SSDs Track). It’s a panel session discussing  adoption of ruler format SSDs – longer and narrower than 2.5-inch drives. Thera are three panel members: distinguished engineer Bill Lynn from Dell, advanced storage technologist Paul Kaler from HPE, and SSD industry standards director John Geldman from Kioxia.

Are we actually going to see Dell and HPE produce servers and/or storage chassis containing EDSFF drives made by Kioxia in 2021?

Session D-10: SmartNICs: The Key to High-Speed Converged Networks (Hyperscale Applications Track) has panel members from Nvidia, Broadcom, Pensando and Intel. The concept of offloading infrastructure processing tasks from application-oriented X86 servers in the data centre like security, networking and low-level storage service to smart NICs is gaining ground and we will hear more about this in 2021.

What’s not on the FMS2020 agenda is anything about Micron’s QuantX (3D XPoint) activities or penta-level cell (5 bits/cell) flash. There are sessions discussing Intel’s Optane and QLC (4 bits/cell) flash but nothing listed about PLC or Micron’s QuantX technology.

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