An annual panel that now traditionally closes the Flash Memory Summit (held last week in Santa Clara, CA) is Andy Marken’s “Top 10 things you need to know about NAND Flash.” It’s a great way to sum up the events and presentations at this event. This year, Andy invited Troy Winslow, Director of product and channel marketing for the Intel NAND Products Group; Dr. Radoslav Danilak, CEO of StorCloud, a solid-state-storage startup; Jim Handy, a well-known memory and storage analyst at Objective Design; and Larry O’Conner, founder and CEO of Other World Computing. Together, these presenters gave us much more than a mere 10 things to know about NAND Flash.
Troy Winslow’s list:
- NAND solutions have a clear value proposition today.
- That value proposition will increase over time. Winslow referred to Knut Grimsrud’s earlier keynote speech describing the first six years of solid-sate-disk SSD development where performance increased by 20x, with a prediction of another 20x yet to come. “We have a line-of-sight view to the next 20x said Winslow. See “Intel’s Knut Grimsrud explains how to get another 20x improvement in SSD performance.”
- Not all NAND solutions are created equal. That’s good for consumers, said Winslow, because competition controls costs and speeds development.
- Standard Plug-and-Play interfaces and solutions are key. For example, said Winslow, only SSDs can fully exploit the new 6Gbps SATA interface. In the future, storage tiering, OS and driver optimizations, and enhancements to Microsoft Windows 8 will accelerate SSD adoption by improving SSD performance in systems.
- Process lithography advances are a fact. The industry benefits from the pace of Moore’s Law, said Winslow, because SSD providers cannot offer the same product for five years and remain competitive.
- Litho advances are a challenge. Even so, said Winslow, all of the successful NAND vendors will need to progress. He predicted the move to 1X and then 1Y NAND Flash geometries. Then, said Winslow, we’ll need a breakthrough to go further.
- The right partnerships add value. This becomes even more critical as NAND Flash devices become more complex, said Winslow.
- There will be SSD vendor consolidation. The top 10 SSD players currently have 90% of the market volume said Winslow, but there are more than 200 players right now. Credit off-the-shelf controller and firmware improvements with keeping the smaller players in the market.
- Flash memory is the storage of the future. NAND scaling still has a few years left. (More if Micron’s vision of 3D NAND manufacturing comes to pass—see “3D Thursday: A look at some genuine 3D NAND cells, courtesy of Micron.”
- Get in the ball game. Not everyone has tried an SSD in their PC, said Winslow. Once they try one, he said, they won’t go back.
Dr. Danilak had trouble limiting himself to 10, so he had 12 points:
- NAND Flash cost and density improvements will continue. The 128Gbit NAND Flash device is just around the corner, he said.
- NAND Flash endurance continues to deteriorate. That’s not a big problem for consumer applications like SD cards used in cameras and Flash drives, said Danilak. These applications have no problem with the low-endurance specs of MLC (multi-level cell) NAND Flash devices because they’re not rewritten very often.
- The Flash industry is changing. Consumer products will rapidly migrate to managed NAND Flash where the peculiar requirements of the devices are hidden behind smart control circuits built into the devices themselves. At the same time, said Danilak, the PC industry will migrate from aftermarket SSDs to OEM SSDs.
- Managing NAND Flash is getting more expensive and more complex as the devices’ endurance nosedives. More advanced error-management techniques such as LDPC ECC, re-trimming, and retry cycles will be used.
- Managed Flash is becoming mainstream. It decouples the finicky Flash devices from ASIC development and resolves the inherent misalignment between NAND Flash and ASIC/Flash controller product cycles.
- RAW NAND Flash devices will only be used for high-volume applications.
- The Flash-based SSD market is maturing. Sales are moving from the aftermarket channel to the OEM channels and the NAND Flash semiconductor vendors are starting to dominate the SSD market because they have an inherent cost advantage (they make the chips). At the same time, the focus on IOPS performance is migrating to a value focus in the same way that audio and graphics cards evolved from expensive products competing at the high end of the PC market to check-box items now automatically included in a PC purchase.
- Market consolidation is ending the Wild West era of the SSD.
- NAND Flash devices are becoming the performance limiter for SSDs, not the controllers. NAND Flash devices are slowing.
- Lower-cost MLCs are needed to make SSDs mainstream in enterprise applications.
- NAND Flash deployment in enterprise applications requires vertical integration.
- The next 10x improvement in endurance is in sight and StorCloud has proposed a way to get there.
Jim Handy managed to stick with 10 points:
- Enterprise SSDs will be used in all data centers within the next five years.
- There’s lots of growth left in the NAND Flash market. New applications will appear soon. Examples: surveillance video, content distribution, and black-box recording devices.
- Controllers will get more sophisticated. ECC bit allocations are getting much larger. At this rate, joked Handy, controllers will be able to use NAND Flash devices with no functional bits.
- System software will be designed for NAND Flash and SSDs first, then HDDs.
- Tablet PCs will morph into newer devices. Perhaps video viewers. Today’s tablets will look quaint in 2014 the same way that the original Palm Pilot PDA looks quaint to us today.
- Not everyone can be a successful SSD vendor. Consolidation is coming.
- NOR Flash has a long future in code storage. Each PC contains at least half a dozen NOR Flash devices used to provide the BIOS, operate the keyboard, and run hard and optical disk drives.
- NAND Flash used in PCs is a threat to DRAM not HDDs. See “Is the 1-chip PC looming in the future?”
- The death of NAND Flash is not imminent. Despite early reports of its demise, NAND Flash vendors see ways to implement the 1X and 1Y generations. More clever breakthroughs are in store, said Handy, we just can’t see them yet. Meanwhile, he said, nothing will beat Flash until the lithography hits a wall.
- SSDs in PCs will lose to NAND Flash caches plus HDDs using either hybrid drives or NAND Flash on the motherboard.