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Its Not a Serial Number

The 2010 Flash Memory Summit wrapped up last week in Santa Clara, CA.  Three days of breakout sessions, technical discussions, tutorials, flash exhibits and keynote speakers provided attendees with ample opportunity to gather intelligence related to the future of flash memory architectures.

Inevitably, most who attended are likely to come to the same conclusion; Denali’s reputation for throwing great parties is well deserved.  Wait, that’s not what I meant to write.  What I meant to write was… the gigabyte rules.  While there were numerous relevant points discussed over the three day event, let’s focus momentarily on a story told by Ed Doller, VP Micron Technology, which best illustrates both the state and future of flash memory.

Ed spoke on Thursday, August 19 to a packed theater on the topic of “Flash Memory—The New Technology Driver”.  He cited a number of technology advances over the last several years including the rapid adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  While it’s easy for many within the industry to focus on delivering improved performance by enhancing a number of technical capabilities consumers desire, it all boils down to memory.

Currently, he noted, the largest recognized byte is the “yottabyte”, which is larger than the peda, exa, zetta bytes.  He added some humor when summarizing a newspaper article in which a student at UC Davis is lobbying for the next level of measurement to be termed a “hella”byte.  An appropriate term for both the ridiculous storage capability and the reference to regional slang common amongst many native Northern Californians when referring to something extreme.

Mr. Doller drove the point home with a personal story he experienced when he recently had to take his daughter laptop shopping before sending her off to college.  While at Costco with his daughter she inquired into the difference between two laptops when looking at the technical specs for each (Ed had a slide of the technical specs for each).  Specifically, she asked about the 1.8GHz 4GB and 2.3GHz 8GB specifications.  He told her that one spec was for speed and one was for memory.

She illustrated the current consumer desire with this, “I don’t really care about the speed; I just want the gigabytes of memory for videos and music”.  She continued, “I thought those (referring to the 1.8GHz and 2.3GHz) were serial numbers or something”.   While difficult to bring justice to humor in the story Ed told and the resounding applause it generated, the point was well taken.  While consumers want it all, what they want more than anything is memory and storage.  The consumer acumen, even for the novice consumer, begins and ends with the gigabyte.  Ed noted that just a mere two years ago, most consumers had little knowledge of gigabytes.

The pervasive theme throughout the conference was one of enthusiastic optimism for the future of NAND flash and SSDs.  While this would be expected by those with a stake in the game, outside market research analysts corroborated growing demand and increasing SSD adoption over the forecast years.  Semico Research agrees with this optimism and views the progress in controller software as having a vital role in increasing the rate of adoption.

Error correction, garbage collection, and trim functions will need to be addressed from the software side for the adoption of SSDs to overcome reliability issues as NAND continues to scale to smaller process geometries.  Based on the coverage of this issue at the conference, I cannot imagine those with an opportunity in flash memory failing to recognize this opportunity.

Sam Caldwell, Analyst

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