HP, SanDisk partner to bring storage-class memory to market

ReRAM has 1,000 times the endurance of NAND flash in SSDs

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Hewlett-Packard and SanDisk today announced an agreement to jointly develop "Storage Class Memory" (SCM) that could replace DRAM and would be 1,000 times faster than NAND flash.

The two companies will market their SCM products for use in enterprise cloud infrastructures based on HP's memristor (a revolutionary form of resistor), which it has been developing for at least five years, and SanDisk's ReRAM memory technology.

The resulting non-volatile memory technology is expected to be up to 1,000 times faster while offering up to 1,000 times more endurance than flash storage, the companies said.

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An artist's rendition of RrRAM memory. Tiny conductive filaments crisscross and connect silicon layers to represent a bit of data.

It is also expected to offer significant cost, power, density and persistence improvements over DRAM technologies, according to Siva Sivaram, executive vice president of memory technology at SanDisk.

The SCM portfolio will eventually ship as enterprise SAS, SATA and PCIe-attached products that can be used to replace DRAM, and supplement NAND flash as a higher tier memory.

The SCM technology will be byte-addressable like DRAM, and its characteristics are intended to allow systems to employ tens of terabytes of SCM cache per server node for applications such as in-memory databases, real-time data analytics, and transactional and high-performance computing.

"This is a large marketplace," Sivaram said.

Memristor and ReRAM's long history

ReRAM, which is based on the memristor circuit, uses a passive two-terminal electrode that stores data using ions that change the electrical resistance, rather than electrons.

According to researchers from the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA), resistive memory can reduce the energy consumption of modern IT systems while increasing performance.

"In resistive switching memory cells (ReRAMs), ions behave on the nanometer scale in a similar manner to a battery. The cells have two electrodes, for example, made of silver and platinum, at which the ions dissolve and then precipitate again. This changes the electrical resistance, which can be exploited for data storage," JARA stated in a paper on ReRAM.

Resistive random-access memory (ReRAM or RRAM) is based on the "memory resistor" concept, also called memristor. The term memristor was coined by University of California, Berkeley, scientist Leon Chua in the early 1970s.

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A microscopic sideview photo of a Resistive RAM circuit where tiny conductive filaments crisscross and connect silicon layers to represent a bit of data.

Until memristor, researchers knew of only three basic circuit elements -- the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor. Memristor added a fourth, but it remained a theory and not a reality for decades.

In 2008, researchers at HP Labs claimed to have proved memristor existed based on an analysis of a thin film of titanium dioxide.

In 2010, HP entered into a three-year joint development agreement with Hynix Semiconductor around memristor development.

HP and Hynix said they would jointly develop the materials and process integration technology to bring memristor technology to commercial development as ReRAM. Hynix was to be responsible for fabricating the memristor technology. Five years later, there has been no product.

"This program been in active development within SanDisk for seven or eight years," Sivaram said of his company's ReRAM technology. "HP recognizes our expertise."

Sivaram could not say when products will ship. The two companies will need to develop proprietary OS, firmware and application software to go along with the new non-volatile memory.

While the agreement was described as "long term," the companies didn't specify an exact timespan for the development partnership.

HP and SanDisk are not alone

Resistive memories have been nearing production for the past couple of years, meaning HP and SanDisk are not alone in their quest to find a cheaper, more durable non-volatile replacement for DRAM.

Silicon Valley start-up Crossbar expects some of its 3D Restive RAM (3D RRAM) products to be out in 2016 as memory in wearable devices, with high-density storage devices like solid-state drives arriving within 18 months after that.

Intel and Micron announced earlier this year they were partnering to develop 3D XPoint, transistor-less cross-point architecture that creates a three-dimensional checkerboard of microscopic wires where memory cells sit at the intersection of words lines and bit lines.

The companies claim 3D XPoint memory has the potential to be 1,000 times faster with 1,000 times the endurance of NAND flash with about 1 million erase-write cycles.

Intel has said it expects 3D XPoint products to ship next year in PCIe SSDs and DIMM form factors.

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The premise of 3D XPoint's architectures is that it removes the need for bit-storing transistors and instead uses a latticework of wires that use electrical resistance to signify a 1 or a 0.

The SCM technology that HP and SanDisk are working on is focused on addressing the massive streams of data generated by the convergence of social media, security, mobility, big data analytics, cloud and the Internet of Things.

The partnership aims for the companies to augment their existing flash memory-based SSD product lines with the new memory technology, providing high-performance storage solutions to enterprise data centers.

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3D XPoint dies.

It also aims to contribute to HP's The Machine, a new storage architecture that uses memory and storage to bring processing closer to the data, embed security control points throughout the hardware and software stacks, and enable management and assurance of the system at scale.

"The onslaught of data facing enterprises will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. We are excited to be working with SanDisk as they share an understanding of the significance of this challenge, and more importantly share a vision that the solution lies within memory-driven computing," Martin Fink, HP's chief technology officer, said in a statement. "Together, we will bring new memory solutions to market and accelerate adoption in the enterprise, while simultaneously advancing HP's development of The Machine to enable a new computing model over the long term."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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