Solid-state storage finds its niche


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Many SSD options
But there are other SSD options. The rapid rise of NAND flash-memory technology promises to make SSD a viable storage option in the mainstream corporate IT storage environment at some point. Because flash is nonvolatile, it's suitable for long-term data storage; in addition, systems built on flash technology follow an entirely different price curve because they don't have to incorporate the power protection and battery backup required by volatile DRAM-based SSD (see "The many flavors of SSD," below).

As flash storage becomes more feasible--thanks to the benefits of Moore's Law and the SSD industry's improving economies of scale--even companies that don't calculate their competitive advantage in microseconds may turn to SSD in the not-so-distant future. The advantages of NAND flash storage in terms of high performance, low energy usage and reliability may eventually offset SSD's high cost per gigabyte.


The many flavors of SSD
The solid-state disk (SSD) market is rapidly evolving into an alphabet soup of acronyms as companies try to find a nonvolatile storage technology--ferroelectric memories, magnetic memories, phase-change

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memory, polymer memories, nanotechnology memories, resistivity change memories, micromechanical probe memories, one-time programmable ROM memories--that delivers the high performance of double data rate with the low cost of hard disk drives, but without the wear-out problems of flash. In addition to NOR and NAND these include:
  • Phase change RAM (PC-RAM)
  • Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM)
  • Spin-transfer torque RAM (STT-RAM)
  • Ferroelectric RAM (FE RAM)
  • Nitride read-only memory (NROM)
The problem with these technologies is that they're years away, if ever, from mainstream, large-scale storage production use. "They are unproven, won't scale or can't achieve the density that NAND will have in, say, three years when they might be widely available," says Alan Niebel, founder and CEO, Web-Feet Research Inc., Monterey, CA. "At best, some may replace NOR flash in cell phones or something like that."

"Initially," adds Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, Atascadero, CA, "you will see these [technologies] show up in the military or some highly specialized industrial niche."


This was first published in November 2007

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