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Network, telecoms markets drive SRAM demand

17 Apr 2014  | Gary Hilson

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Given its unmatched performance and speed capabilities for certain applications, static RAM computer memory (SRAM) remains a critical one despite being a niche memory market. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will be replaced by another technology anytime soon.

Networking is one area where SRAM continues to excel as Internet traffic continues to grow exponentially and network infrastructures must continue to upgrade in order to handle moving and storing more data. The 100Gb to 400Gb linecards found in next-generation switches and routers are hungry for memory that can support the random transaction rates (RTRs) found in network traffic today. An RTR is the number of fully random memory accesses per second, and a critical memory performance metric for increased linecard and switching rates.

While SRAM has its uses in other applications, Quad Data Rate IV (QDR-IV) SRAM was designed for high-speed communications and networking applications, and it prioritises data throughput over cost, power efficiency or density, unlike DRAM or flash. At the same time, the goal is also to double performance of SRAM with each generation.

"The network and telecom market is definitely driving the SRAM definitions right now," says Bob Haig, marketing manager at GSI Technology, an SRAM-focused vendor. As network gear has moved to 400Gb linecards, the demand for SRAM bandwidth has scaled right along with it.

Other applications for SRAM include military hardware and medical devices. But compared to the DRAM segment, SRAM is much smaller, with few players. "The market has become more and more specialised," Haig tells us. "There is no longer one type of device that serves everyone's needs."

GSI has a large catalogue of SRAM offerings, but Haig says other memory players have exited the space because, unlike DRAM, which has fewer products sold at high volumes, SRAM has a lot of different products sold at low volumes.

Meanwhile, Cypress Semiconductor Corp., a significant player in the SRAM market, just introduced QDR-IV SRAMs in 144Mb and 72Mb densities to support the RTRs required for 100Gb to 400Gb linecards in next-generation switches and routers. Sudhir Gopalswamy, senior director of Cypress's SRAM business unit, says the bottleneck for reaching increased linecard rates is the processing of lookup tables, statistics and state counters stored in memory, as well as scheduling functions.

Cypress also offers a broad array of SRAM across different categories. Gopalswamy says QDR-IV has been addressing the networking segment for some time, and although some gear does use DRAM for some tasks, it's not going to work for lookup functions and statistics management. "You just don't have the random transaction rate performance." Some high-performance-computing and military applications, such as radar, also require the RTR performance of QDR-IV.

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