First Flash Memory Summit Clarifies State of the Business

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2006-08-11

First Flash Memory Summit Clarifies State of the Business

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The first Flash Memory Summit now is just that—a memory.

A gathering of about 500 flash engineers, enthusiasts and entrepreneurs met at the Wyndham Hotel for three days here Aug. 8 to 10 to see colleagues, argue about the value of hard drives versus flash, learn about new uses for NAND flash, and predict where the market is heading.

A question that occurred to some people was this: Why, in the 17-year history of flash memory, hasnt such a conference been held before this?

Flash memory—a solid-state, rewritable silicon memory chip that holds its content without needing power—had been a successful but unspectacular business up until about four years ago; now it is big business.

"Why? I dont know why this hasnt been done before," Jay Kramer, a storage consultant in Laguna Beach, Calif., and organizer of the event, told eWEEK.

"The various flash form factors [USB, MMflash, SDflash and others] have their own little organizations, but no one has ever put one like this together."

The overall flash memory market definitely needs to be addressed. The NAND flash market in 2005 was $10.8 billion, up a whopping 63 percent from 2004.

Click here to read more about flash chips in PCs.

Analysts estimate the market to grow to $16.8 billion in 2006 and $26.2 billion in 2009 (as estimated by industry analytics firm iSuppli in El Segundo, Calif.).

NAND flash bit shipments grew at a 179.6 percent compound annual rate in the six-year span from 2000 to 2005, or at least three times the 51.2 percent CAGR for DRAM processors, Denali Softwares Lane Mason has reported.

Not to be confused with other flashes of brilliance

Flash memory is not to be confused with Macromedia (now Adobe Systems) Flash, which refers to both the Adobe Flash Player and a multimedia authoring software used to create content for the Adobe Engagement Platform (for Web applications, games and movies).

There are two kinds of flash memory: NAND and NOR. NAND (stands for the mathematical term "no and") is used in memory cards, such as CompactFlash cards, and also is used in USB Flash drives, MP3 players, iPods, and provides the image storage for digital cameras.

NAND, created by Toshiba in 1989, is best suited to flash devices requiring high capacity and storage—offering storage space of up to 512MB and faster erase, write and read capabilities than the older, lower-end NOR architecture.

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At the summit, several NAND flash specialists agreed that its only a matter of months before the first NAND flash laptops enter the market.

Flash chips are now available in 4GB capacity and will continue going up from there as improvements in fabrication continue to take place.

"These laptops may be super-thin—perhaps only a half-inch thick," said Alan Niebel, CEO of Web-Feet Research in Monterey, Calif.

Microsoft, Intel show flash products

Advances in flash memory technology for PCs from Microsoft and Intel were highlighted at the event.

Microsoft program manager Matt Ayers presented a talk on "Using Flash Memory to Improve Performance in Windows Vista," and Intel Fellow Knut Grimsrud discussed "Flash Changes Computing, Computing Changes Flash."

Demonstrations of Microsofts flash-based ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive technologies and Intels flash-based Robson technology were given.

Ayers, a program manager in the Microsoft Windows Client Performance Group, is currently working on flash-based technologies, such as ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive, that are aimed at improving Windows Vista performance and responsiveness.

"Flash memory can boost PC speeds without increasing clock frequencies and power consumption," said Dr. Lance Leventhal, who served as the program chairperson.

"Intels Robson nonvolatile cache technology and Microsofts ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive technologies take advantage of flash memory to reduce startup times, increase operating speeds, and lower power consumption in the next generation of personal computers."

Microsoft, Intel, and other industry leaders believe that flash memory is the key to the next generation of PCs.

"Robson flash technology will provide faster startup, quicker access to data and programs, and reduced power consumption," Ayers said.

"Robson offers a speed boost that cannot be matched by raising clock frequencies without running into power dissipation limitations. And while multicore processors are good for applications like graphics rendering, they do not really help with typical user tasks like powering up or accessing programs."

A laptop with Robson flash technology will power up almost immediately, compared to several seconds for an identical laptop without Robson, Ayers said.

And a Robson laptop will open Adobe Reader in less than 0.5 seconds, compared to over 5 seconds for a non-Robson laptop, he added.

Other events coming up

The Flash Memory Summit has already produced at least one spinoff event: The Non-Volatile Memory Conference will be held Sept. 14, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Flash memory also will be a major topic at the Storage World Conference in Boston, Sept. 19-21.

This weeks event also brought some attention to the ASNP (Association of Storage Networking Professionals), and to at the University of California, San Diego.

eWEEK is preparing an in-depth report on the overall state of flash, to be published later in August.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.

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