Breakthrough Doubles Computer Memory Capacity
IBM Research has unveiled a technology that doubles the memory capacity of computer servers, a breakthrough which could save Internet Service Providers and other large technology installations millions of dollars. Called IBM Memory eXpansion Technology, it could eventually be adapted for personal computers and pervasive e-business devices, but is initially designed for Intel-based industry-standard PC servers, such as IBM’s Netfinity line.
MXT is a hardware implementation that automatically stores frequently accessed data and instructions close to a computer’s microprocessors so they can be accessed immediately — significantly improving performance. Less frequently accessed data and instructions are compressed and stored in memory instead of on a disk — increasing memory capacity by a factor of two or more.
MXT incorporates a new level of cache designed to efficiently handle data and instructions on a memory controller chip. By combining new hardware-based compression algorithms and millions of tiny transistors, IBM researchers were able to double server memory capacity for most applications. The new technology is seamless to the end-user because the compressed data can be uncompressed in nanoseconds when needed.
“Adding memory is often the most effective way to improve system performance, but it’s a costly proposition,” said Mark Dean, IBM Fellow and Vice President of Systems Research. “IBM Memory eXpansion Technology is a game-changing development that improves system performance without adding costly physical memory.”
With MXT installed, users can either cut costs by purchasing half the memory to achieve the same performance, or they can increase performance by installing the same amount of memory to achieve twice the capacity.
Since MXT effectively doubles the memory capacity of a machine, a typical Windows 2000 or NT-server based rack-mounted configuration can achieve its maximum memory capacity of 168 gigabytes with only 84 gigabytes installed. With the retail cost of server memory at several thousand dollars per gigabyte, a user could double their memory capacity and cut their cost per gigabyte by half, saving about $250,000 per rack of servers. For a user with a large IT installation — such as an ISP with multiple racks of servers — MXT could result in total savings of more than a million dollars. The savings can be significant for both small and large installations, as memory comprises 40 to 70 percent of the total cost of most NT-based server configurations.
IBM is exploring ways to incorporate MXT in its line of data-transaction and Web-application servers, in addition to storage subsystems and other appliance servers. In the future, the technology could be adapted for desktop and laptop PCs, workstations and pervasive e-business devices, such as handheld computers, mobile phones and anywhere additional memory is needed to allow more information to be stored on smaller and smaller devices.
ServerWorks, a Santa Clara, CA, based supplier of high-performance core logic for Intel-based servers, plans to incorporate MXT technology into its next-generation high-end core logic solutions, under the terms of a five-year technology sharing agreement it recently signed with IBM. ServerWorks anticipates that it will first offer MXT in a product known by the code name “Pinnacle.” The company has the right to sell products incorporating MXT technology to all its customers.
“Memory eXpansion Technology reduces hardware cost and boosts performance,” noted Raju Vegesna, ServerWorks’ president and CEO. “Designers of 1U and 2U rack-dense servers never have enough real estate for large memory configurations, so doubling the effectiveness of each byte of physical memory offers real advantages. Our ability to integrate IBM’s advanced technology into industry-standard platforms makes Intel-based servers work better, and benefits everyone who uses, buys or sells systems like these.”