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Solid State Storage



Solid state standard DRAM drives deliver performance and durability beyond anything available in flash and could find enterprise use if price and density barriers were overcome. This would allow for "instant on" for servers and other devices, and eliminate the mechanical latency and failures of spinning media.

In components, the main players are IBM, Intel, Freescale, Hitachi Data Systems, Ovonyx, Samsung and ST Microelectronics. For products, the big names are Aspacia, BitMicro, Dynamic Solutions International and Texas Memory Systems. More interesting is who isn't playing: EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Storage, IBM Storage and Sun Microsystems. The new nonvolatile technologies, such as MRAM or phase-change RAM, don't have the cost-density ratio these companies need for mass deployment.

Nonflash, RAM-based nonvolatile storage will be a niche market until technology changes let it challenge flash RAM and/or magnetic hard-disk technology with similar cost-density characteristics. It's unlikely any significant breakthroughs will happen until 2011.

After years of the status quo in solid state storage, recent advancements may bring about replacements for conventional hard drives in about five years. One solid state technology, flash memory, has two big weaknesses: It wears out after a relatively small number of writes, and it's slow compared with other types of memory. Future generations of solid state technologies, such as MRAM (magnetoresistive RAM) and phase-change memory, don't have these limitations.

Freescale's commercial MRAM chip is the first of its kind on the market and operates at 4 Mbps. MRAM combines an unlimited write potential and high speed with flash RAM's nonvolatile nature.

Solid state drives may seem like a new phenomenon in storage, but these devices have been around for 25 years. The original market for solid state drives was in military and industrial applications, where the environment was too harsh for standard magnetic hard disks.

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