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Flash Summit bares future of memory

11 Aug 2014  | Rick Merritt

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I got a view of new uses for flash controllers, the significance of the still invisible Samsung V-NAND, and the long road ahead for next-generation non-volatile memory.

Those were my highest peaks at the Flash Memory Summit. I also caught up on the battle over the DRAM bus and the race to pack ever more data into solid-state drives.

The biggest takeaway was on the breadth and depth of work to turn solid-state drives into processing nodes for big data centres. Specifically, there are efforts afoot to tap into under-used flash controllers to handle distributed computing tasks that include processing core search algorithms such as Hadoop and Map Reduce.

Start-up NxGenData emerged from stealth mode to show its new concepts on the show floor. Its flash controller will use an ARM Cortex A9 running at up to a GHz rather than the more typical Cortex-M or -R cores.

The extra umph will help chips manage up to 8TB of data on an M.2 form factor PCI Express card, that's about the size of a long stick of gum with the extra error correction coding that requires. More importantly, the company outlined a strategy to make the controller a distributed computing node.

Each controller will run a lightweight Linux kernel and a virtual memory container. It will communicate with a host system via a TCP/IP-over-PCIe tunnel. The company claims engineers at Google are expressing interest in the concept, which essentially creates a second layer of distributed processing in the data centre.

NxGenData has a long way to go and high hurdles along the path. It doesn't expect to have a working FPGA-based prototype until early next year and no ASIC version until the following fall.

 NxGnData execs

From left, NxGnData execs Richard Mataya, Co-Founder and SVP; Nader Salessi, Founder and CEO; Vladimir Alves, Co-Founder and CTO; James Fife, VP of Business Development

Meanwhile, Samsung formally launched at the event an industry initiative to drive towards this kind of functionality. It said it is helping launch working with multiple groups to draft standards for how this gets done.

Having standards in the area will be important, but Samsung's quick move will shorten any time-to-market advantage for start-ups like NxGnData. The concept was first sketched out in a Micron talk at the event a year ago, so lab work on it is likely widespread at this point.

The former flash controller team at Western Digital formed NxGnData in June 2013. China blocked plans for a full merger of WD and HGST last year, preventing the hard-disc giants from pooling their separate SSD teams and the WD crew drew the short straw.


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