Flash memory set to benefit from mobile Internet explosion

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

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As NAND's geometry shrinks in size, electrons move closer together and the charges that allow data to be stored in cells in the substrate material leak through cell walls causing data loss and errors, he explained. To deal with the data corruption, developers must create more and more sophisticated error correction software and therefore increase development cycles, Weinger said.

Today, the workhorse of NAND flash memory products is 32 nanometer (nm) lithography, or flash memory circuitry that is 32nm in width. All of the largest producers of NAND flash, including Micron and Intel, unveiled flash memory products with geometries in the 23nm to 27nm range over the past month.

Weigner predicted a longer development phase for the next generation of products with lower geometries.

At the same time, density will continue to increase at a fast pace as there are more and more bits stored per flash memory cell, and the number of boards contained in a device increases.

Solid state drives (SSD) today come with flash memory boards embedded with flash chips on both sides. Weinger said he expects to see multiple boards in future devices as well as an increase in the number of bits stored in flash memory cells. Today, three bits per cell are stored in multi-level cell NAND products.

Experts say that future generations of servers, laptops and netbooks will be more likely to use NAND-based PCIe cards rather than the SSDs used in most systems today. SSDs mimic hard disk drives and their communcations interfaces, which are typically either SAS in servers and SATA in PCs and laptops. The newer PCIe technology eliminates some of the bottlenecks that can slow SSDs.

For example, OCZ recently announced its highest capacity Z-Drive R2, a flash drive which plugs directly into a PCI Express slot and offers up to 2TB of capacity and has data transfer rates of 1.4Gbit/sec.

That compares with a hard drive serial ATA interface, which currently offer 3Gbit/sec throughput. Recently, vendors began offering began offering 6Gbit/sec SATA interfaces.

OCZ's Z-Drive, an flash drive with 2TB capacity and 1.4Gbs throughput
OCZ's Z-Drive, an flash drive with 2TB capacity and 1.4Gbs throughput

It is in the data center where Weinger and others believe solid state drives will lead to the most revolutionary change over the next decade.

As organizations seek to create greener, more energy efficient infrastructures, solid state drives will be a natural fit, Weinger said. In addition, SSDs are becoming more popular in data centers as corporate users require faster storage mediums for streaming video and trading platforms.

"You'll see a major change in way data centers are constructed because of carbon footprint," Weinger said. "As they start building new data centers from ground up, flash memory will be significant part in terms of the speed and data access which will be needed as world becomes more connected."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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