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Optane Memory and kdb+

Optane Memory

Intel Optane DC persistent memory, herein called Optane Memory, is a new hardware technology from Intel. Optane Memory has the potential to substantially disrupt the memory and storage landscape.

Optane Memory is based on a new silicon technology, 3DX Point, which is significantly faster and more durable than existing storage media.

Optane technology was first unveiled in 2017, in the form of Optane DC SSD. By packaging 3DX Point in a Solid State Drive (SSD), Intel created a product many-times faster than the best devices (largely based on NAND Flash) that preceded it. However, the scale of performance improvement of 3DX Point brought another target into Optane’s sights – main memory.

The technology that dominates main memory, DRAM, is fast to access, but small and very expensive. Storage (whether SSD or spinning disk) is large and cheap, but typically orders-of-magnitude slower to access. This has led to a significant gap in the memory-storage hierarchy:

SRAM   CPU cache L1, L2, L3
DRAM   main memory
SSD    storage
HDD    archival

Optane Memory disrupts the traditional hierarchy, by introducing a new category that sits between memory and storage. Sitting in the same DDR4 DIMM slots (and memory bus) as DRAM, Optane Memory sits close to the CPU, and allows applications to directly address it as memory.

SRAM   CPU cache L1, L2, L3
DRAM   main memory
>> Optane Memory
>> Optane SSD
SSD    storage
HDD    archival

What are the advantages?

By combining the best aspects of storage and memory, Intel Optane is at once high-performance, high-capacity, and cost-efficient.


Optane technology is markedly faster than existing storage media, as shown by Optane DC SSD.

Optane memory offers another significant performance improvement, due to

  • Direct CPU access to individual bytes, rather than blocks, at a time.
  • Minimal latency and maximal throughput via the memory bus, versus PCIe connections for SSDs.


While DRAM currently caps at 128 GiB per module, Optane Memory is available in capacities of 128 GiB, 256 GiB, and 512 GiB.

With six Optane Memory modules per socket, users can address 10+ TB of system memory on a single system.


The retail prices of Optane memory should sit between the prices for DRAM and NVMe Optane storage. This can be one consideration for a kdb+ solution, especially if it uses a lot of active memory for streaming or real-time analytics, or if it needs extremely fast access to hot data in a HDB. This may make such a solution more affordable than just using DRAM.

The increased memory size also provides an opportunity to consolidate workloads onto fewer nodes, leading to an even lower TCO through reduced hardware, software, datacenter and operations costs.

How can kdb+ users benefit?

The advantages that Optane Memory provides to databases are clear:

  • On-disk databases will run faster using Optane as storage
  • In-memory databases will scale using Optane as a larger memory space

A typical kdb+ application uses a combination of memory and storage to gather, persist and analyze enormous datasets. Kdb+’s structured use of on-disk data allows efficient access to databases up to petabyte scale. The size of in-memory datasets, however, is primarily restricted by the size of the accessible memory space.

Once datasets grow beyond the available memory capacity, users have three main options:

  • read/write data from storage
  • scale horizontally
  • scale vertically

Read/write data from storage

Kdb+ on-disk databases are partitioned, most commonly by date, with individual columns stored as binary objects within a file system. The result is a self-describing database on disk, mapped into memory by a kdb+ process and presented to users as if it resides in memory. The limiting factor with most queries to on-disk data, is the latency and bandwidth penalty paid to jump from storage to DRAM-based memory.

Scale horizontally

Adding more machines into the mix allows users to add more memory by scaling out. Processes across a cluster communicate via IPC and work on calculations as a single logical unit. The success of this approach depends largely on the inherent parallelization of the task at hand, which must be balanced against the increased complexity and costs of hardware.

Scale vertically

Vertical scaling is the preferred method of scaling for most kdb+ applications, as users aim to keep as much hot data as possible close to the CPU. If everything would fit in memory, and we could afford it, we’d probably put it there. However, traditional memory (DRAM) is expensive and, even if funds were unlimited, is limited in capacity on a per-socket basis.

Optane Memory presents opportunities to address these issues, through much faster storage and significantly scaled-up memory capacity.

How can kdb+ users deploy Optane?

Optane technology can be deployed in a number of ways, depending on the design of users’ existing applications.

There are three modes by which Optane can be used by kdb+

  • Storage mode
  • Cached Memory mode
  • App Direct Memory mode

Storage mode

With Storage mode, Optane Memory behaves like a file system visible to kdb+. As the file system is explicitly optimized for the underlying technology, it offers significantly better operational latencies than are seen from anything so far in the industry. With extremely low read/write speeds, data is passed quickly between storage and memory, enabling faster queries. Optane Memory is particularly fast at small, random reads, which makes it particularly effective at speeding up kdb+ historical queries.

Storage mode was recently audited, publicly, using the STAC M3 industry-standard benchmarks. Tests ran on Lenovo ThinkSystem servers with Optane Memory, 2nd Generation Intel Scalable Xeon (Cascade Lake) processors, and kdb+ 3.6.

Using a 2-socket server:

  • Optane Memory was faster in 16 of 17 STAC-M3 Antuco benchmarks, relative to 3D NAND SSD
  • In 11 of the benchmarks, Optane Memory was faster by more than 2×

Using a 4-socket server:

  • Optane memory was faster in 8 of 9 STAC-M3 Kanaga benchmarks, relative to 3D NAND SSD
  • In 6 of the benchmarks, Optane Memory was faster by more than 2×

Compared to all publicly disclosed STAC-M3 Antuco results:

  • For 2-socket systems running kdb+, this solution set new records in 11 of 17 mean response-time benchmarks.
  • For 4-socket systems running kdb+, this solution set new records in 9 of 17 mean response-time benchmarks.

Write speeds are also improved using Optane memory, allowing higher throughput when logging and writing down database partitions.

Cached Memory mode

In Cached Memory mode, DRAM mixes its memory address space with Optane Memory, dramatically increasing the amount of memory seen by the kernel and hence available to kdb+.

The CPU memory controller uses DRAM as cache and Optane Memory as addressable main memory. This transparently extends the amount of memory visible to kdb+, with no application changes necessary to take advantage. For larger datasets, this increased memory space avoids the costs and complexity of horizontal scaling.

Vertical-vs-horizontal scaling

A common solution for overly-large in-memory datasets, is to split the data across multiple machines. Data is usually split based on some inherent partition of the data (e.g. ticker symbol, sensor ID, region), to allow parallelization of calculations. Horizontal scaling allows users to add memory, but comes at a cost. Average perfomance (versus a single machine) is reduced due to the cost of IPC to move data between processes. There is also an increase in complexity as well as hardware, datacenter and operations costs.

Optane Memory, in Cached Memory mode, creates a new opportunity to scale vertically. A significantly extended memory space enables calculations on a single machine, rather than a cluster. This removes or reduces the complexities and performance cost of IPC, allowing users to run simpler, more efficient analytics.

App Direct Memory mode

In kdb+ 4.0, App Direct Memory mode lets applications talk directly to the Optane Memory. Kdb+ sees Optane Memory and DRAM as two separate pools, and gives users control over which entities reside in each. As a result, users can optimize their applications and schemas, keeping hot data in fast DRAM while still taking full advantage of the expanded memory capacity.

Horizontal partitioning

e.g. Keep ‘recent’ historical data in Optane Memory, allowing multi-day queries in memory

Vertical partitioning

e.g. Different tables/columns residing in DRAM/Optane Memory


Optane Memory is a game-changing technology from Intel, which will allow kdb+ users to increase the performance and capacity of their applications. Through reduced memory costs and significant infrastructure consolidation, Optane Memory should also reduce TCO.

Earlier versions of kdb+ are already compatible with Optane Memory through Storage mode and Cached Memory modes, providing significant improvements for both in-memory and on-disk datasets. From version 4.0 onwards App Direct Memory mode gives users control over Optane Memory, taking optimal advantage of the technology to suit their applications.

Kx have created a new technology and marketing partnership with Intel, around Optane Memory. By working closely with Intel’s engineers, we will ensure kdb+ takes full advantage of the features of Optane Memory. We also have a team of engineers ready to help Kx customers evaluate Optane Memory. Through a POC, we can determine the optimal way to deploy the new technology to new and existing use cases. Please contact to coordinate any such POC, or for any technical questions.

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