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Sun and Micron extend flash life

Magic million write/erase cycles

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Sun and flash memory vendor Micron have collaborated to extend the life of enterprise flash memory to one million write/erase cycles, higher than any other NAND technology available.

Enterprise flash is a term used to denote flash memory used in servers as a cache or solid state drives (SSD), and storage arrays as SSD replacement hard drives or as controller cache.

Micron says a new single level cell (SLC) NAND technology is involved in this Enterprise NAND, and that production devices are capable of achieving the million cycle mark. Specific write and read speeds of flash using this new technology aren't revealed but SLC flash is inherently faster than multi-level cell (MLC) flash and Micron has announced fast NAND chips recently.

The company spokesperson said: "Read speed is similar to existing SLC NAND. While there is a write-performance penalty for extended-cycling NAND the penalty varies by product and process technology, so I can’t provide an actual number. But keep in mind that the applications that will take advantage of this technology will be less sensitive to write performance, because they either write in the background, which doesn’t impact system performance, or they have very large arrays that essentially spreads the write delay out among multiple NAND channels (parallelism)."

Brian Shirley, Micron's memory group VP, said: "We expect this technology to revolutionize the enterprise storage hierarchy and be adopted by a wide range of transaction-intensive including solid state drives and storage disk as well as networking and industrial."

Sun has previously worked with Samsung on a similar flash write/erase cycle extension initiative. The write/erase cycle life was extended tenfold in that one which we thought meant about 50,000 cycles.

Even if this was actually 100,000 cycles it is a long way short of 1,000,000 and it looks as if Sun's favourite flash partner is now Micron.

The technology is not a controller-based one, Micron saying, "It’s a NAND-based technology; controllers are not included in this package. ... it can be extended to [2-bit] MLC flash, which will achieve 100K write cycles," and so not matching SLC's million-cycle benchmark

Although Intel and Micron partner in IM Flash technologies to make NAND chips, it appears that this is Micron technology and not Intel's, meaning that Hitachi GST, committed to taking Intel SSDs, won't get it and, be extension, neither will Hitachi Data Systems which has said it will take the HGST/Intel product.

A Micron spokesperson said: "While we can’t comment on Intel’s product plans, this Enterprise NAND technology is a Micron-only product. They are a strategic development and manufacturing partner of Micron’s, but after the product comes out of the fab we can 'tune' and market our products that best meets the respective company’s strategic objectives and customer needs."

The company says other suppliers as well as Sun will benefit from the new technology.

Micron is now sampling this Enterprise NAND in densities up to 32 gigabits with volume production set for the first quarter of 2009. It expects to introduce both SLC and MLC versions of this technology using 34nm process technology early next year as well.

See a video about Enterprise NAND here on a Micron blog site. A posting there says it is Micron technology and not Sun's with Sun relegated to an endorsement role. ®

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