Monday, April 2, 2012

The Real Growth Paths for Flash Memory?

The article below addresses flash memory growth in SSD as a replacement for hard drive, which is one of the main growth areas for flash.

However, some other very large growth areas for flash memory are cell phones and consumer products.
For example, in the new iPad from Apple, the cost of  NAND Flash is between 5-18% .

April 24 Update: Apple's quarterly results highlight the impact that cell phones are having on the growth of flash.   "Surging iPhone Sales Propel Apple's latest quarter results". Total revenue of $39 billion...nearly 75% of revenue derived from the iPhone and iPad

Ron Maltiel

What are the Real Growth Paths for Flash Memory?
Tom Coughlin, 3/29/2012

Many pundits predicted that the shortage of hard disk drives would cause a significant shift to SSDs last quarter and this quarter. But as indicated in Micron’s report on its F2Q results, many OEMs ordered what became excess inventory of SSDs that will take another quarter to use up. The basic reason is economic, even with HDD supply much less than demand and higher HDD prices the price of a given amount of flash memory capacity is still much higher than that of HDDs.
Currently even the lowest price SSDs sell for about $0.70/GB while the most price impacted HDDs sell for $0.14/GB (a difference of 5:1). As the available production volume for HDDs recovers the price of HDDs in real dollars will continue to fall. In addition if higher areal density HDDs are introduced later this year, capacity prices will drop to pennies per GB while the least expensive SSDs will likely drop to $0.50/GB by the end of 2012. Economics is an important consideration for consumer and business purchases, and price does matter.

Over the next year or two there will be additional consumer and business products that shift from using HDDs to only using SSDs or flash memory. In mobile devices and automobile applications the ruggedness of flash memory and its ability to be put into smaller volumes than HDDs provide other advantages to users even if the purchase price is greater. In addition, many mobile applications have limited local storage (to control the product price) and depend upon storage and other resources from “the cloud.” Mobile consumer electronics will be a major growth area for flash memory, but likely not as much for traditional SSDs.

SSDs are storage devices that contain flash memory chips but also a separate storage controller that manages wear-leveling, memory management and interface control. It is likely that many future flash memory implementations in mobile devices will incorporate the controller into the overall system electronics and the storage device will be a collection of flash memory chips with no dedicated controller. This helps to reduce the overall system cost as the controller is part of the system electronics but also allows tighter integration and proprietary control of the controller functions by the mobile device designer. These considerations are likely a major reason for the purchase of Anobit by Apple.

The growth areas for SSDs will primarily be in two areas. In client computing applications, such as Ultrabooks, SSDs will be used alone in the most expensive machines while less expensive Ultrabooks will use a combination of a HDD and an SSD, or else flash memory cache in the HDD (a hybrid HDD), or possibly on the motherboard (although this seems less likely). These combinations of flash memory with a HDD provide performance boosts like those with pure SSD computers but offer the lower cost capacity of HDDs and will allow sub-$600 Ultrabooks, which are likely to be the most popular price point.

The other growth area for SSDs is in enterprise applications where SSDs can provide fast transaction processing, partly to support cloud services and storage in “the cloud.” Although HDDs (and even magnetic tape) will continue to supply inexpensive mass storage, intelligent storage tiering using SSDs allows must faster access to content and at lower expense than a DRAM-based solution. There are currently many storage systems available by every major enterprise storage vendor offering SSDs as part of their storage tiers and several companies offering pure flash-based appliances. These companies include EMC, HDS, HP, Oracle, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Texas Memories, X-IO and many others.

The combination of SSDs and flash memory in mobile devices and in remote data centers supporting cloud-based storage and services is important enabler of today’s information economy. However these performance and mobile applications would be very limited without access to low cost content and information storage on magnetic storage devices. Thus in a real way flash memory and HDDs are much more symbiotic than might initially appear to be the case . In a real way the growth of flash memory and SSDs is dependent upon the growth of HDD storage and likewise the growth of HDDs is enabled by the faster data access enabled by flash memory.

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