UPDATED 12:18 EDT / SEPTEMBER 06 2013

NAND Flash Taking Over Storage, But New Technologies Snapping at its Heals

NAND Flash is taking over storage of the most active data, but it has a very long way to go to replace disk, and new technologies are snapping at its heals. Flash is an order of magnitude faster than disk, lasts longer, and overall costs less than spinning disks. It is fast conquering tier 1 storage, with flash vendors setting their sights on tier 2 applications such as e-mail and even tier 3 archival applications. For the next five-to-seven years it appears to be where the excitement in storage will be, but various more advanced technologies that promise even higher speeds with less energy use in even less space are on the horizon.

Those are the conclusions of an extensive report on the Flash Memory Summit 2013 by Wikibon and Robert Frances Group Analyst Gary MacFadden, published on the Wikibon site. The report examines the forces driving NAND Flash into IT shops, the different classes of NAND Flash, and profiles all of the leading vendors, from major companies like IBM to startups like Virident and Whiptail.

The report focuses on the advances in NAND Flash technology over the last two years that have made it smaller, longer lived, and more energy efficient, making it a superior all-around solution to traditional hard disk drives (HDD). Cells have gotten thinner, below 20 nm, tinier than a human virus at roughly 30-50 nm, allowing higher storage densities. However, he says, HDD still commands $30 B of the overall $50 B total storage market, so flash has a way to go to dominate the market. And just as tape is still in active use for long-term archiving in many enterprises, so HDD is likely to linger on in specific areas for years to come.

And new storage technologies are already on the drawing boards, McFadden says. These include magnetoresistive (MRAM), phase-change (PRAM). static (SRAM), and resistive (RRAM or ReRAM). IBM scientists are working on atomic storage, an attempt to store data on single atoms. IBM is also working on Racetrack memory, a non-volatile memory that promises to store 100 times the capacity of current SSDs.

When, or whether, any of these technologies will become practical — and at what price — remains to be seen. NAND Flash has benefited from massive demand generated by the boom in consumer mobile computing devices of all kinds, that drove tremendous amounts of manufacturing ramp up and associated price decreases, helping make it practical for use in much larger amounts in data centers.

As with all Wikibon research, this entire report is available without charge on the Wikibon Web site. Anybody trying to understand the NAND Flash market and especially those charged with making decisions about implementing this valuable new technology should read this report which, although lengthy, is entertainingly written and easy to follow.

IT professionals are invited to register for free membership in the Wikibon community. This allows them to post comments and questions on the research and publish their own tips, Professional Alerts, and longer reports on relevant subjects. Members are also invited to participate in the periodic Peer Incite meetings, where IT professionals discuss how they have solved problems and realized business advantage through applying advanced technologies such as flash storage.


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