Accelerating HPC with a new memory and storage technology

July 27, 2020

Researchers at the University of Pisa shrank a 40-minute MRI examination procedure down to about 2 minutes through the use of new Intel Optane drives.

The University of Pisa has a long and distinguished track record for putting the latest and greatest technologies to work to accelerate high performance computing. This continues to be the case today as this Dell Technologies HPC & AI Center of Excellence is using innovative new technologies to accelerate compute- and data-intensive research workloads.

One of these innovations is Intel® Optane™ technology, a breakthrough media that closes critical gaps between traditional memory and storage. Intel Optane technology establishes new tiers in the memory and storage hierarchy to deliver persistent memory, large memory pools, fast caching and fast storage.

In one test case, the university put Intel Optane technology to work in a study conducted with the IMAGO7 Foundation, a consortium for scientific research in the field of magnetic resonance at ultra-high static field. This study showed that Intel Optane technology can be used to significantly reduce magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning time, while increasing the accuracy of the scans.[1]

In the study, the University used a computationally demanding technique called MRI fingerprinting. Because of the high demands on the processor, researchers quickly determined that traditional NAND-based hard disk drives and even solid-state drives were not up to the task because of their inherently high latencies. The researchers could have solved the latency problem by using all in-memory servers or clusters instead of standard drives, but this option was prohibitive due to the high costs of DRAM.

This is where Intel Optane technology came into play. Working collaboratively with engineers from Intel and the Dell Technologies HPC & AI Innovation Lab, University researchers implemented the Intel® Optane® SSD DC P4800X Series inside Dell EMC PowerEdge servers as an affordable low-latency option for MRI fingerprinting. This flavor of Intel Optane technology combines the attributes of memory and storage in a new data storage tier that accelerates latency-sensitive workloads with fast caching and fast storage.

The tests showed that the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Series provides exceptional performance with predictable low latencies, and therefore it could be used effectively for the memory mapping techniques used in MRI fingerprinting. The researchers had found what they were looking for — a viable alternative to costly DRAM or lower-performance SSDs.

The results were pretty amazing. Initial testing indicated that the Intel Optane technology can be used to reduce MRI scanning times from 40 minutes down to just 2 minutes, and that post-exam data processing times can be reduced from day to hours. Even better, the results show that MRI fingerprinting can be used in conjunction with memory mapping and Intel Optane technology to reduce uncomfortable MRI exam times for patients and to efficiently increase the accuracy of scans for doctors and technicians.

With encouraging results from the MRI study and other test cases, the IT leaders at the University of Pisa are now making wider use of Intel Optane technology in their environment.

“We started deploying SSD drives and NVMe drives, and at last we decided to install Intel Optane drives in our scientific computing environment,” says Antonio Cisternino, CIO of the University of Pisa. “The Intel Optane drives have low latency and fast speed, and with them we reach a lot of improvement in our scientific computation.”

To learn more

For a closer look at the University of Pisa’s work with Intel Optane technology, see the video “University of Pisa speeds MRI results with Intel Optane.” And to explore the different flavors of Intel Optane technology, including Intel® Optane™ DC persistent memory and Intel® Optane™ DC SSDs, visit Intel Optane Technology for Data Centers.


[1] Intel, “University of Pisa Uses Intel® Optane™ SSDs to Significantly Reduce MRI Scanning Times,” November 2017.

 

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