UPDATED 14:45 EST / OCTOBER 24 2019

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Micron debuts flash memory-optimized AI development platform

Computer chipmaker and storage company Micron Technology Inc. is pitching its hardware for artificial intelligence workloads after acquiring a startup called FWDNXT.

The company announced the acquisition at its annual Micron Insight conference in San Francisco today, describing FWDNXT as a provider of AI hardware and software for deep learning, which is a subset of AI that tries to mimic the way the human brain solves problems.

Micron’s plan is to integrate FWDNXT’s technology with its own, optimized flash memory products to create what it says will be a “comprehensive AI development platform.”

“FWDNXT is an architecture designed to create fast-time-to-market edge AI solutions through an extremely easy to use software framework with broad modeling support and flexibility,” Micron Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Sumit Sadana said in a statement. “FWDNXT’s five generations of machine learning inference engine development and neural network algorithms, combined with Micron’s deep memory expertise, unlocks new power and performance capabilities to enable innovation for the most complex and demanding edge applications.”

Micron has already created its first product that integrates FWDNXT’s technology. The Micron Deep Learning Accelerator (below) is a “software-programmable platform” powered by the startup’s AI inference engine that can run numerous machine learning frameworks and neural networks. It takes advantage of Micron’s flash memory to process the vast amounts of data needed to train algorithms on these frameworks and networks quickly and efficiently, in an easy to use interface.

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Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have already experimented with running convolutional neural networks on Micron’s Deep Learning Accelerator to process and analyze 3-D electron microscopy images. The goal is to come up with new treatments for cancer. In another example, Micron said nuclear research organizations are also experimenting with CNNs running on its platform to observe the results of high energy-particle collisions in near-real-time to detect rare particle interactions.

Sadana explained in a briefing with analysts and reporters Wednesday that the FWDNXT architecture is crucial as Moore’s Law, the reality for decades that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year or so, has been slowing down considerably. So software-driven advances are crucial to finding other ways to keep speeding up computing. “This is the next level of innovation,” he said.

More broadly, Micron Chief Executive Sanjay Mehrotra (pictured) said in his keynote at the Insight conference, the company views memory technology as a key driver for tech innovation as the use of data becomes ever more important to business and everyday life. “Memory will drive the most transformative era in human history,” he said.

“Micron is trying to add more value to its storage products through its acquisition of FWDNXT,” said Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research Inc. “It’s an interesting idea because AI can benefit from the faster access to data that flash provides. It will lead to faster insights, giving enterprises a leg up over competitors who don’t implement this.”

Micron further announced it’s adding some new solid-state drives to its portfolio of flash memory products. They include the Micron 5300 and Micron 7300 SSDs for data centers, the latter’s speedier Non-Volatile Memory Express protocol providing a speed boost especially appealing to cloud computing providers. There’s also a new Crucial X8 Portable SSD, which is aimed at consumers who wish to add more storage to their laptops and personal computers.

The Micro 5300 SSD and the Micron 7300 SSD are said to be the first to use the company’s 96-layer 3-D TLC NAND technology, and are optimized for tasks including media streaming, block and object storage and online transactional processing.

Not least, Micron said it’s introducing a new Authenta Key Management Service, which seems to be another example of the company trying to add more value beyond just providing simple storage.

Authenta KMS is said to be a “silicon-based security-as-a-service” offering for protecting edge and “internet of things” devices that rely on Micron’s flash memory. Once set up, installed secure flash devices can be activated and managed at the edge through a cloud-based service.

“Securing a diverse set of IoT edge devices through the complete product lifecycle — from the supply chain to in-field management — requires a novel, simple, scalable and cost-effective approach,” Amit Gattani, senior director of embedded segment marketing at Micron, said in a statement. “Authenta KMS provides a trusted and unique silicon-to-cloud service for all ‘connected things’ using Authenta-enabled flash devices.”

With reporting from Robert Hof

Photos: Micron

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