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August - 2014 - issue > CXO View Point
Changing World of Computer Memory and Data Storage
Dr. Rajiv Ranjan
Co-founder & CTO-Avalanche Technology
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Fremont, CA, based Avalanche Technology is a developer and manufacturer of STT-MRAM and related System Solution products. The company founded in 2006 has received funding of $65.1 million from Qualcomm Ventures, Leader Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Vulcan Capital, Thomvest Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Rogers Venture Partners.

Today most people are familiar with terms like cloud storage, big data, smart-phone or tablet-computer. These were mostly unknown about five years ago. As a technologist, one wonders constantly about the world in the coming three to five years. While one could argue about what technology or phenomena has contributed the most to enable such changes, in reality it takes a number of technologies to come together, as well as vision and courage of industry leaders.

Computer memory and data storage technologies have continued to be a defining component of a compute, storage as well as mobile systems. Today the existing memories are namely, SRAM and DRAM which have high performance but are volatile, and non-volatile memories, NOR and NAND-flash, and the storage is normally referred to the hard-disk drive which is also non-volatile. The existing memories are facing challenge from scaling and performance, and a number of emerging non-volatile memories (NVM) are being developed to address this. Of the emerging NVMs, phase-change memory (PRAM), magnetic RAM (MRAM) and resistive RAM (ReRAM) are most likely to appear in a product in the near future. It appears that STT-MRAM which is a version of MRAM is being targeted initially for SRAM and DRAM replacement while offering non-volatile performance. This would lead to better performance, lower power while enabling new functionalities. NAND-flash technology has made tremendous strides in the past many years enabling higher density and lower cost products, leading to its proliferation into a number of products all the way from hand-held mobile device to the solid-state-drives (SSD) for the data center. The NAND-flash is transitioning from the planar 2D-version to the 3-D version and thus enabling higher density and lower cost products. This is putting pressure to the high-end HDD such as ones used for the enterprise applications.

It is essential that there exists a manufacturing ecosystem to enable any emerging NVMs to come to the market place. This means there are manufacturing equipments such as made by companies like, Applied Materials, Lam research, and others readily available. The manufacturing process should be easily adaptable to large semiconductor fabs such as TSMC, Global Foundries, and others., using standard processes as well design tools such as available from companies like, Cadence, Synopsis and others. It is very important that the emerging NVMs be cost competitive with the existing memories in order to succeed in the marketplace. This is always challenging for the emerging technologies although clever solutions may exist at the system-level working closely with the end customers.

In today's SOCs, CPUs and GPUs, fifty to over eighty percent of the chip-area is covered by memory. These memories mostly tend to be SRAM, although recently e-DRAM is being incorporated to lower cost. Of the emerging NVMs, the one with ease of integration to standard CMOS process will have the best shot at this market. This would provide a significant chip-size reduction while providing high-speed NVM close to the logic. This is expected to provide lower-cost, faster boot time, and a number of new functionalities, especially for mobile devices.

Server arrays and data centers are undergoing a dramatic change from old legacy HDD based system to flash-based systems utilizing solid-state-drive (SSD). There are a number of start-ups as well as large companies working on this space working from software-centric to hardware-centric approaches. This space will continue to evolve driven by the application space to file-systems from the top, and cost/ performance/space requirements from the other side. The emerging NVMs will continue to play key differentiating role in this hot space. At the same time, the software defined data-centers, software-defined-network, software-defined-storage in combination with virtualization will continue to transform the whole data-storage space in the coming years.

It is being predicted that in the near future, with the coming of internet-of-things (IOT), we will have multi-billion interconnected devices that will play key role in all aspects of our lives. This requires low power, fast access and lower cost NVMs.

As we can see that in the recent years, more and more of our personal lives are being impacted by mobile devices. These devices will continue to improve and simplify our life by providing us control over our health, our social-life, our professional life and others. in the ways we cannot even imagine. Computer memory and data-storage technologies will continue to play key role enabling such products and services.

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