In this episode, we talk with Jim Handy (@thessdguy), memory and flash analyst at Objective Analysis. Jim’s been on our podcast before and last time we had a great talk on flash trends. As Jim, Howard and Ray were all at Flash Memory Summit (FMS 2016) last week, we thought it appropriate to get together and discuss what we found interesting at the summit
Flash is undergoing significant change. We started our discussion with which vendor had the highest density flash device. It’s not that easy to answer because of all the vendors at the show. For example Micron’s shipping a 32 GB chip and Samsung announced a 1TB BGA. And as for devices, Seagate announced a monster, 3.5″ 60TB SSD.
MicroSD cards have 16-17 NAND chips plus a mini-controller, at that level, with a 32GB chip, we could have a ~0.5TB MicroSD card in the near future. No discussion on pricing but Howard’s expectation is that they will be expensive.
NVMe over fabric push
One main topic of conversation at FMS was how NVMe over fabric is emerging. There were a few storage vendors at FMS taking advantage of this, including E8 Storage and Mangstor, both showing off NVMe over Ethernet flash storage. But there were plenty of others talking NVMe over fabric and all the major NAND manufacturers couldn’t talk enough about NVMe.
Facebook’s keynote had a couple of surprises. One was their request for WORM (QLC) flash. It appears that Facebook plans on keeping user data forever. Another item of interest was their Open Compute Project Lightning JBOF (just a bunch of flash) device using NVMe over Ethernet (see Ray’s post on Facebook’s move to JBOF). They were also interested in ganging up M.2 SSDs into a single package. And finally they discussed their need for SCM.
Storage class memory
The other main topic was storage class memory (SCM), and all the vendors talked about it. Sadly, the timeline for Intel-Micron 3D Xpoint has them supplying sample chips/devices by year end next year (YE2017) and releasing devices to market with SCM the following year (2018). They did have one (hand built) SSD at the show with remarkable performance.
On the other hand, there are other SCM’s on the market, including EverSpin (MRAM) and CrossBar (ReRAM). Both of these vendors had products on display but their capacities were on the order of Mbits rather than Gbits.
It turns out they’re both using ~90nm fab technology and need to get their volumes up before they can shrink their technologies to hit higher densities. However, now that everyone’s talking about SCM, they are starting to see some product wins. In fact, Mangstor is using EverSpin as a non-volatile write buffer.
Jim explained that 90nm is where DRAM was in 2005 but EverSpin/CrossBar’s bit density is better than DRAM was at the time. But DRAM is now on 15-10nm class technologies and sell 10B DRAM chips/year. EverSpin and CrossBar (together?) are doing more like 10M chips/year. The costs to shrink to the latest technology are ~$100M to generate the masks required. So for these vendors, volumes have to go up drastically before capacity can increase significantly.
Also, at the show Toshiba mentioned they’re focusing on ReRAM for their SCM.
As Jim recounted, the whole SCM push has been driven by Intel and their need to keep improving the performance of memory and storage, otherwise they felt their processor sales would stall.
3D NAND is here
Just about every NAND manufacturer talked about their 3D NAND chips, ranging from 32 layers to 64 layers. From Jim’s perspective, 3D NAND was inevitable, as it was the only way to continue scaling in density and reducing bit costs for NAND.
Samsung was first to market with 3D NAND as a way to show technological leadership. But now everyone’s got it and providing future discussions on bit density and number of layers. What their yields are is another question. But Planar NAND’s days are over.
Toshiba’s keynote discussed a new flash storage system called the FlashMatrix but at press time they had yet to share their slides with the FMS team, so information on FlashMatrix was sketchy at best.
However, they had one on the floor and it looked like a bunch of M2 flash across an NVMe (over Ethernet?) mesh backplane with compute engines connected at the edge.
We had a hard time understanding why Toshiba would do this. Our best guess is perhaps they want to provide OEMs an alternative to SanDisk’s Infiniflash.
The podcast runs over 50 minutes and covers flash technology on display at the show and the history of SCM. I think Howard and Ray could easily spend a day with Jim and not exhaust his knowledge of Flash and we haven’t really touched on DRAM. Listen to the podcast to learn more.
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Jim Handy, Memory and Flash analyst at Objective Analysis.
Jim Handy of Objective Analysis has over 35 years in the electronics industry including 20 years as a leading semiconductor and SSD industry analyst. Early in his career he held marketing and design positions at leading semiconductor suppliers including Intel, National Semiconductor, and Infineon.
A frequent presenter at trade shows, Mr. Handy is known for his technical depth, accurate forecasts, widespread industry presence and volume of publication. He has written hundreds of market reports, articles for trade journals, and white papers, and is frequently interviewed and quoted in the electronics trade press and other media. He posts blogs at www.TheMemoryGuy.com, and www.TheSSDguy.com.