Flash memory set to benefit from mobile Internet explosion

NAND also expected to expand into data centers to help boost performance and data access

Look for NAND technology to thrive as the world becomes ever more interconnected through mobile devices and data centers seek to become more efficient, or "green."

From wireless handhelds to cameras, tablets and servers, NAND flash technology will be embedded in billions of devices over the next 10 years, says Sanjay Mehrotra, co-founder and president flash memory vendor SanDisk. And, as the number of devices using NAND technology increase, the functionality and security of applications embedded in flash chip controllers will significantly improve, he added.

According to a research report released this week, the number of NAND flash-based solid state drives (SSD) in corporate data centers are expected to grow by 50 times over the next five years, as companies embrace the faster throughput of flash for relational databases and streaming video applications.

"Flash will enable things people couldn't even imagine," Mehrotra said.

Like traditional spinning hard disk drives, storage capacities of NAND-based products such as SDcards and SSDs have grown exponentially over the past 10 to 15 years.

For example, SanDisk's latest embedded storage chip, the iNAND, holds 32GB -- it's first NAND offering, a CF card released in 1995, could store up to 4MB of data. Meanwhile, Samsung recently unveiled 64GB MoviNAND and 32GB microSD cards.

SanDisk, originally called SunDisk at the time, sold a 4MB CF Card for cameras in 1995
SanDisk, originally called SunDisk at the time, sold a 4MB CF Card in 1995

"I remember when we launched our first 1GB product back in 2000. It was a compact flash card that cost $1,000," said Mike Wong, a spokesman for SanDisk.

Today, SanDisk's 32GB SD card can be had for about $95 -- offering 32 times the capacity at one-tenth the price.

Over the last year, about 1.21 billion cellular phones were sold around the world, according to Gartner Inc. The Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm is projecting that the market will grow by 11% to 13% this year. Gartner also projects that sales of smartphone devices will grow by 46% this year to 172.4 million units.

A removable 32GB MicroSD card
Today's technology: A removable 32GB MicroSD card

Steve Weinger, director of NAND flash marketing at Samsung, the world's largest supplier of NAND flash memory chips, noted that while smartphones are the fastest growing piece of the hand-held market, the devices today are only a small portion of the overall business. Thus the expected explosion in sales of the devices will likely be a key to the growth levels of NAND technology, he said.

"The world is becoming this social network-connected world. Everybody wants some way of getting onto the Internet from any place at any time," Weinger added. "That's where flash has so much growth potential."

Weigner also noted that the latest operating system technologies, such as Google's Chrome OS, include features created specifically to support flash memory and its faster I/O throughput requirements. Tablet-specific operating systems from Apple and Microsoft - along with myriad Linux-based platforms -- will predominantly be driven to take advantage of NAND flash products, he added.

"NAND's going to give you the storage capacity, the lower power consumption and the durability you need," Weinger said. "These things are hand-held devices that are going to be dropped, and you'll need the durability of NAND."

Weinger did note that NAND-based flash storage capacity is unlikely to continue doubling annually as it has in recent years.

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