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Extending the Life of NAND

Envisioning a "football field's worth of space and your own personal electrical power plant" is every CIOs worst nightmare, according to IBM technologist Geoff Burr. Yet, 10 years from now, CIOs may well be facing that scenario if they don't have a game plan to migrate their data centers to solid-state technology.

The evidence to support that proposition rests in past solutions to storage performance and capacity shortfalls, where it has been convenient to simply add conventional hard disk drives when more performance or capacity was needed. Now, a 2008 IBM research paper that Geoff Burr authored points out that "by 2020 this trend [to add storage] will call for millions of HDDs in large server installations. In such a situation, these drives not only consume most of the available space and power budget, but the logistics of dealing with failures during recovery from a drive failure become extremely difficult. These issues can no longer be managed by adding more drives, no matter how low their costs... The goal is to develop a non-volatile, low-cost, high-performance solid-state memory that could extend beyond Flash memory," according to the paper in the IBM Journal of Research and Development (July-September, 2008).

Whether it is through replacing or extending Flash, new techniques and/or alternative technologies will have to produce superior results via some combination of factors such as further scalability, lower cost per bit, and better performance. If the cost per bit could be driven low enough through ultra-high memory density, ultimately such storage-class memory devices could replace magnetic hard disks in enterprise storage server systems.

It comes as no surprise, then, that miniaturization is a constant focus with solid-state NAND, as it has been with hard drives throughout their history. Performance and capacity are improved, at the same time that the cost per bit of storage is drastically reduced. All of this is achieved by increasing the areal (or bit) density, which is the amount of data that can be packed into a given amount of real estate on a storage medium.

NAND manufacturers are keenly aware of this. "It is important to recognize that there are ten times more engineers working on extending Flash to such small dimensions than on all other new technologies combined," Burr says. "So there is always the possibility that with so many smart people working on it, that new breakthroughs will occur, which will make it easier for Flash to scale below 22 nanometers. However, there are some particularly large roadblocks ahead."

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