Flash Memory Summit

The Flash Memory Summit, August 7-9, came just two weeks after MemCon. Given that at least half of the conversations at MemCon were about flash memory, I wondered if anyone would bother to attend a second conference on flash. Well, there were plenty of attendees and exhibitors. My completely unscientific estimate is that the Flash Memory Summit was bigger in all respects than MemCon.

Eli Harari, founder of SanDisk gave the first keynote address on Wednesday morning. SanDisk is betting its future on NAND flash and Eli had numbers to back up his enthusiasm for the technology. Since NAND became chimericaly available in the 1990s, its price per megabyte has declined by a factor of 5,000. By 2012, the cost should be about one-tenth that of DRAM. However, NAND scaling is beginning to outstrip progress in lithography and may reach its limit at the 20 nanometer process node. That point we will be getting 256Gb per chip which may be enough to hold us over for a few days anyway.

Eli was followed by Kevin Kettler from Dell . Although most of Kevin’s talk was about all the ways of using flash memory to improve the performance of Vista, he also mentioned another interesting computer application. Currently blade servers all have their own boot disks. These disks do not need to be very large and could reasonably be replaced with flash memory. Doing so across all the servers in a large data center could save a substantial amount of power.

I heard Kevin give a different talk the previous day at Linux World in San Francisco. I was surprise to see Dell there at all but they seem to be coming around to the idea that MicroSoft is not the only game in town. In his Linux World presentation, Kevin talked about server virtualization. He showed a graphic of a server that booted a minimal operating system from flash and then loaded its virtual machines. This method could be not only more efficient but, also more secure.

Though not covered above, there are still plenty of people talking about NOR flash. The price is not plummeting at 50% per year but it is still going down. Talk of its demise is greatly exaggerated.

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