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Memory Defined Software
after AFAs - what's the next box?
are we ready for infinitely faster RAM?
capacitor hold up times in 2.5" military SSDs
say farewell to reassuringly boring industrial SSDs
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can memory chips be made in the wrong place?

Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - April 30, 2018

Is a memory chip in Country A worth the same in Country B?
If supplies were plentiful, and if there was efficient and effective competition, and low barriers to free trade and market entry - then the answer would be:- Yes.

Superficially enough of those conditions seemed to prevail worldwide upto about 3 years ago that if anyone had tried to create a new mainstream civilian memory company (in the DRAM or nand flash markets) then the effort would have been viewed as maybe being nuts.

Why bother?

There would have been little appetite to invest in such a new semiconductor venture.

The IP barriers alone were strong enough to deter such efforts and the risks and rewards from the competitive side (plentiful cheap memory and "forever downwards - like gravity" price projections) would have been sufficient deterrents to such investments.

Now fast forward to today.

The supplier position power exposed by the memory shortages coupled with geopolitical sensitivities which received serious airing and analysis in the 2017 beauty pageant of who might be a fit buyer of Toshiba's memory business exposed the strategic sensitivities of the memory business.

And recent actions by US regulators to block technology sales to significant China based technology companies which fell afoul of well known US sanctions on 3rd party countries (for example ZTE survival at risk amid US ban - said SeekingAlpha.com while ZTE says US penalties are 'unfair'- said ChinaDaily.com.cn) coupled with the recalculation of value effect inevitably inspired by asking what would happen if something like recently imposed US tariffs on photovoltaics were to be applied on memory chips by any country for any reason - is creating a climate in which the Country A versus Country B question may change the assessment of investing in new memory companies to include a stronger weighting to the geographic question of where the customers are compared to the factories which make the chips.

I'm also assuming here that another factor in reopening this type of question is that the imbalance between memory supply and demand may have changed from its historic pattern of quickly rebalanced balance - to becoming (for maybe several more years yet ) - unplentiful and higher priced memory becoming the new normal. Here are some articles which discuss the temperature of thinking.
  • A blog on AnandTech - Chinese DRAM Industry Spreading its Wings: Two More DRAM Fabs Ready (April 25, 2018) - says "Innotron Memory and Fujian Jin Hua Integrated Circuit, are gearing up for volume production of computer memory in the coming month. Both manufacturers were founded with the help of the Chinese government, their output will initially be consumed locally."
Older readers will remember that the question of whether memory chips might need passports and visas to travel from one part of the world to the other (and the related question of what kind of buyer reception these coach class chip tourists would get when they arrived) was for many decades the norm. It was only in the dotcom era that we got used to just in time inventories for manufacturing and the free movement of consumer grade technology parts zigzagging their way around the factories of the planet like the shadows of drunken satellites.

Maybe there isn't enough effective competition in the memory market and it took the lack of headroom in supply to show our vulnerability to these strategic links and dependencies.

Later:- in July 2018 - Micron's SSD and memory sales in China became at risk of being halted due to a preliminary legal injunction awarded to UMC in a dispute related to memory patents.

PS - The focus of blog above was talking about mainstream civilian uses of memory chips. And I hope I made that clear. It's obvious that another answer to the question - can memory chips be made in the wrong place? - in the context of military systems - is of course yes. Geography and pedigree of a military memory systems maker and SSD integrator are usually the primary reasons for choosing a supplier - irrespective of cost. Sorry if you were expecting a discussion about that.

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what's some electrons more or less?

(sensitive nm geometry meets 2/3D)
Editor:- April 26, 2018 - The sensitivity of progressively smaller nand flash cells to actual trapped charge (as measured by the number of electrons) has an immediate and direct bearing on the repeatability of data reads compared to writes.

Hence the original need for adaptive and noise tolerant ECC technologies.

And also playing their part - with the passage of time - the corrosive attacks on data integrity which accumulate in their effects due to leakage, disturbance etc - not to mention the damoclesean biggie of write cycle damage aka wear out (endurance) - have been summarized by many useful shortcuts in the past as part of the ongoing narrative associated with the pairing of SSD controller complexity growing as the necessary mitigating accompaniment (like a data integrity cop) to memory cell sizes shrinking - in the quest for ever cheaper naughty flash.

You can see some good recent examples of how these relationships pan out in a recent article by Andrew Walker - the Future of Non-volatile Memory (April 11, 2018) which is part of a series he's written on 3DInCites.

Among other things Andrew notes that...
  • In 2D nand flash at the 16nm nand flash level, less than 10 electrons will cause a 100mV threshold voltage shift.
  • Whereas in 3D (skyscraper) nand flash the total number of electrons stored in the silicon nitride reservoir (occupying a similar 2D planar footprint) is much greater resulting in more stability in the threshold voltage.
The main thrust of Andrew's article is to indicate that even 3D nand flash has shrinkability limitations because of the damage caused by writes.

And this is one of the reasons that some memory companies have long been looking at other technologies which don't rely on trapped charges although regarding application roles he says:-

"STT MRAM is emerging as the embedded nonvolatile memory of choice for advanced silicon processes. It is also being touted as a replacement for SRAM and, with a small enough memory cell, DRAM. It is unlikely to replace nand flash." ...read the article

See also:- nvm news, storage reliability - news & white papers
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research shows processing in memory can save power
Editor:- April 2, 2018 - Here's a new acronym for you and also a new way to think about the value of offload logic in memory arrays too. They both appear in a recent paper - Google Workloads for Consumer Devices: Mitigating Data Movement Bottlenecks (pdf) which started as a research project in Google.
  • First - the new (to me) acronym:- PIM - processing in memory.

    This is a synonym for "in-situ SSD / memory processing".

    This is a concept which has been associated with creeping refinements and various different implementations since it first came into common usage as one of the key SSD ideas in 2014.
  • Second - the new idea:- saving power.

    We're used to the idea that PIM (or in-situ memory processing) can provide substantial acceleration for applications when the core logic has been custom tuned for a particular set of applications.

    The new thing is that PIM can provide a worthwhile reduction in electrical power too - by reducing movements of data to locations outside the associated memory array. And a power optimized design can deliver useful acceleration at the same time.
The authors say... "Our analysis shows that offloading the primitives (for widely-used Google consumer workloads) to PIM logic.. eliminates a large amount of data movement, and significantly reduces total system energy (by an average of 55.4% across the workloads) and execution time (by an average of 54.2%). ...read the article (pdf)

SSD jargon
should we set higher expectations for memory systems?

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SSD news - April 2018

StorageSearch.com / SSD history / more pages like this
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Spin Transfer Technologies says its breakthrough tweak to MRAM structure will enable new uses in datacenter ASICs

Editor:- April 30, 2018 - Although it can be an enigmatic challenge figuring out what the market positioning and application roles of some alternative nvms really is - Spin Transfer Technologies left no room for doubt in press releases today about recent enhancements in their (ASIC compatible) MRAM technology.

Re applications SRAM is one of the target markets. STT says its improved MRAM - with Precessional Spin Current (PSC) structure - lengthens retention time by a factor of over 10,000 (1 hour retention becomes more than 1 year retention) while reducing write current.

STT says the new PSC structure is compatible with most MRAM processes, materials and tool sets and adds only about 4nm to the height of the pMTJ deposition stack. PSC decouples the static energy barrier that determines retention from the dynamic switching processes that govern the switching current. Among the improvements:- PSC reduces read disturb error rate up to 5 orders of magnitude.


no magic bullet to shorten how long it takes to test and verify Bullet Train SSDs

Editor:- April 26, 2018 - Aspects of the journey to get TB industrial SSDs approved for use in China's bullet trains were announced today by CoreRise which beat 7 other competitors and has been supplying batches of its SSDs for onboard use in these world's fastest running (200 mph) passenger trains since 2016.

CoreRise's Product Manager said - "Before mass production, there are more than 500 items of the tests in 57 categories to be passed. Moreover, the test standard is very strict. It need not only to conform to the customer requests or nominal standards, but also enough safety redundancy, and guarantee the reliability and consistency of technical performance."

Editor's comments:- The interesting thing in this story is how the customer qualification processes and verification tests for reliable operation in harsh environments for electronics take longer than the original design of the SSD.

That's one of the distinguishing characteristics of the industrial SSD business and sets it apart from consumer and enterprise markets.

See also:- industrial SSDs, the business of custom SSDs


Hynix says DRAM prices will stay high due to continuing growth in demand

Editor:- April 24, 2018 - SK Hynix today announced it will enter the enterprise PCIe SSD market as one of several plans to diversify its product portfolio.

Re its DRAM business in the quarter ended March 31, 2018 - Hynix reported - "Quarter-over-quarter, DRAM bit shipments decreased by 5% due to weak mobile demand and lessened production days nevertheless of sustained robust server demand. However, the average selling price rose by 9% through evenly increased price for all DRAM product categories."

Hynix said in a related conference call (audio) / (transcript - on SeekingAlpha.com).

"(Global) demand for DRAM is expected to grow by low 20% level this year. Supply growth will not be enough to ease the price supply situation, even if suppliers accelerate their migration to 1Xnm and continue to add wafer capacity by increasing investment."

"For the NAND market the demand growth continues around SSD. Enterprise SSD in particular is expected to drive growth." ...read the article

Editor's comments:- As the continuing ripple effects of the memory shortages are now in their 3rd calendar year of impact you have to ask yourself - is this the new "business as usual?"

I said on linkedin:- For those suckled on the "memory as commodity" business model of semiconductor product marketing the current surreal competitive landscape must make them feel they were suckered.

See also:- a historic view of memory boom bust business cycles.


Toshiba memory sale reenters What If? zone

Editor:- April 24, 2018 - The sale of Toshiba's memory business still has the potential to unravel according to various reports which note that regulatory delays have delayed completion of the deal with Bain (announced September 2017) into a different market territory in which Toshiba's parent no longer needs the proceeds to remain solvent and the value of the flash memory memory business is not the same as it was.
  • JapanTimes - "Toshiba and Bain want to finalize the current agreement, but they can't wait forever..."
  • Electronics Weekly - "Activist investor Argyle Management of Hong Kong says the memory unit could fetch $40 billion in an IPO, whereas the Bain/Hynix sale will only bring in $18.6 billion."
  • ZDNet - "...the tech giant has missed a deadline of March 31, due to Chinese antitrust regulators, which are yet to permit the acquisition to take place."
timeline of Toshiba's forced memory sale


a NAS / AoE view of no SPOF

Editor:- April 19, 2018 - No Single Point of Failure + Golden Images is one of a series of recent blogs by Brantley Coile, Founder/CEO at Coraid (see also older Coraid 2009 to 2015) about topics mostly related to good software design in the context of network storage appliances.

Editor's comments:- Brantley's musings about the storage software industry from a historic perspective have become a regular and enjoyable read for me in recent months. He's written about topics as diverse as the history of hard drive interfaces to the ideal size of software teams.

See also:- high availability enterprise SSDs


what's the value of infinitely faster RAM?

Editor:- April 17, 2018 - A recent blog on StorageSearch.com - are we ready for infinitely faster RAM? - asks - among other things - what's the value of having very much faster memory?

Looking at past decades for clues - there was limited scope for being able to change the world of computing by simply having faster memory. Even if you could go back in time and take compatible chips or SSDs from today's market and retrofit them - you wouldn't change very much - because the nature of applications and bottlenecks were a quagmire of limited thinking and finite lookalike expectations.

The enterprise computing market of today is different as it's not just the actions of people which create workloads but the economic value of machines which create data from inventing and discovering new relationships in data anywhere which can be leveraged into monetizable opportunities - provided that the results can be computed quickly enough.

But would you recognize a new memory accelerator if you saw it? Faster memory systems may nhot even look like traditional memories and their "fastness" will be application and context dependent. ...read the article


unveiling a 200TB hard drive for cloud apps - the Titanosauros 1

Editor:- April 1, 2018 - Triassic Peripherals today exited stealth mode and announced its first product - a 200TB hard drive aimed at cloud applications.

The Titanosauros 1 has a dual port SAS interface, spins at 5,000 RPM and comes in a classic 8" form factor. Triassic says that a 1U rack can provide 1 petabyte of raw storage. Despite being optimised for electrical power the outermost cylinders of the drive can provide data throughout faster than a 15k 2.5" drive. Pricing data is available on request.

One of the co-founders - Fred Spinstone said that in a previous company his team had been supporting legacy EOL 8 inch IPI-2 hard drives for military customers but using flash inside. (Similar in business concept to the EOL mitigation solutions offered by Reactive Group and others.)

The idea for Triassic was - hey let's put a hard drive in a hard drive enclosure. Random access time isn't great at 50 mS but in a cloud system the metadata knows where the chunky data lives and systems performance is tiered through servers and flash anyway.

The patents for the 8" platters have expired so Triassic isn't expecting patent suits from the usual suspects. ...readers' comments and more info

See also:- HDD articles & news on StorageSearch
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SSD news in Aprils of yore
April 2005 Texas Memory Systems offered the world's first performance related guarantees for SSD products.

TMS promised they would outperform any competing storage system, or meet the customer's agreed application speedup expectation - or the customer would get their money back.

This approach was partly inspired by market research data from StorageSearch.com's Q405 SSD User Survey - which said that users would be more likely to try SSD systems if vendors offered such guarantees.

The perceived risks for users associated with buying (what seemed to be) relatively expensive enterprise SSD systems from (mostly little known) vendors to obtain business benefits from poorly understood and likely-to-change installed assets -based on pre SSD thinking - continued to dampen adoption of SSDs by mainstream users for the next decade - because it required considerable technical expertise to understand what was being offered.

Eventually the enterprise flash market chose the route of creating plausible sounding pricing models as the way to bypass technical performance unknowns - a marketing trend which I wrote about in my article - Exiting the Astrological Age of Enterprise SSD Pricing.

Although the utility pricing model - based on memory pricing roadmaps - didn't prove to be sustainable when memory costs increased in 2017) this didn't halt the onward progress of memoryfication because the widescale adoption of flash meant that flashless users could see evidence of the benefits in industries which they understood.
April 2006 Solid Access Technologies became the first enterprise SSD manufacturer to display end user pricing online for the full range of its SSD arrays.

Before this date the volatile nature of memory pricing and fear of price led competition had meant that most SSD oems declined to publish any pricing data.
April 2008 Seagate filed suit against STEC alleging patent infringements related to hard disk interfaces.

The case was seen by many SSD proponents as a potentially deadly but seriously misguided missile launched at the entire SSD market. It was later dismissed without merit. And later - helped by the acquisition of LSI's SSD business - Seagate itself became a significant supplier of enterprise SSDs and SSD controllers.


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Controllernomics - is that even a real word? Memoryfication? PIM, NVMeoF, pSLC etc
dipping into the waters of SSD jargon

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after AFAs - what's next?
Throughout the history of the data storage market we've always expected the capacity of enterprise user memory systems to be much smaller than the capacity of all the other attached storage in the same data processing environment.

after AFAs - click to read rhe articleA classic blog on StorageSearch.com - cloud adapted memory systems - asks (among other things) if this will always be true.

Like many of you - I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of memory technologies and data architectures in the past year. I wasn't sure when would be the best time to share my thoughts about this one. But the timing seems right now. ...read the article


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Why can't SSD's true believers agree upon a single coherent vision for the future of solid state storage? (They never did.)
the SSD Heresies.

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Don't expect business to pick up where it left off when the next memory boom bust correction kicks in.
questions re trajectory of SSD market's onward rebound
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If you're one of those who has suffered from the memory shortages it may seem unfair that despite their miscalculations and over optimimism the very companies which caused the shortages of memory and higher prices - the major manufacturers of nand flash and DRAM - have been among the greatest beneficiaries.
consequences of the 2017 memory shortages

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The industry will learn a lot about the "goodness" of new memory tiering products by stressing them in ways which the original designers never intended.
RAM disk emulations in "flash as RAM" solutions

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Memory Defined Software - a new market in the making
There's a new software idea that's been experimented on in the AI skunkworks in the cloud and as patentable secret enhancements in next generation embedded processor designs. This new concept and exciting new market (for the VCs reading this) will be more significant than a new OS and will mark a break in the way that the enterprise thinks about software.

You had had plenty of warning about the new chips but memoryfication doesn't stop with faster storage. The idea didn't have a name when I started writing about it. But what it should be called is obvious.

Memory Defined Software doesn't have to work at being backwards compatible because the legacy storage industry will import and export to it if they want to play in data's future.

See more about this in my blog - introducing - Memory Defined Software. (Sometimes you can change the world with software which breaks all the rules - if you can find the right platform to run it on.) ...read the article

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