Macro Lessons from Nano Crunch
There are three distinct lessons for enterprise IT in the near-sellout status of Apples iPod Nanoand in the associated worldwide crunch of NAND flash memory, which has buyers and sellers all scrambling to make long-term deals and capacity expansions.
Let me set the scene by explaining the difference between NAND flash and the more senior NOR flash technology.
Both names derive from resemblance to standard logic devices with corresponding names: the NAND gate ("Not And": If all inputs are true, the output is false) and the NOR gate ("Not Or": If at least one of several inputs is true, the output is false).
NOR flash connects memory transistors in parallel, enabling individual access and high-speed read operationsbut also requiring individual, time-consuming memory-write operations.
NAND flash connects the transistors in series, requiring operations on an entire block of cells at a time and slowing data readsbut providing higher speed in writing large data blocks.
For device designers, the implications are clear: Its easier to execute code stored in NOR flash hardware because that memory can be treated like conventional static RAM and permits rapid jumps from one location to another.
Its faster to upload data into NAND flash hardware, which looks to the programmer like a fairly standard I/O device using internal registers for control.
Since series-wired NAND flash cells have fewer physical connections than parallel-wired NOR flash cells, NAND flash is more compact and has a lower cost per bit.
To execute stored code, though, requires copying it from the NAND flash device into a block of standard memory from which it can be run, adding both the cost of that "shadow" RAM and the complexity of that copy operation to the device.
That brings us to the lessons.
Lesson 1: Dont kid yourself about the value of well-preserved bits. The world is going nuts for NAND flash because the world is obsessed with accumulating data, which is what NAND flash does best.
People are impressed by the idea that they can upload their iPod playlists in mere minutes; enterprises are impressed by the rate at which business process monitoring tools can generate transaction data. Both are failing to think about fundamental alternatives.
Personally, I entertain myself with a radio rather than an iPod because I want to hear something I havent heard a dozen or a hundred times beforeeven if its just a new recording of a classical piece that I thought I knew by heart.
If Id had an iPod in 1994, its inventory would certainly have included The English Concerts 1982 recording of "The Four Seasons"and I might never have discovered Il Giardino Armonicos entirely different interpretation (first released in 1994 and now available in reissue).
Enterprise architects should likewise take care not to invest so much in data accumulation that they neglect real-time monitoring and analysis.
Better IT creates more efficient markets, and in a truly efficient market, the only possible edge is in being perfectly informed a little bit sooner than everyone else.
At the beginning of this year, when we chose the honorees in the Business Analytics category of the fifth annual eWEEK Excellence Awards program, we noted the broad capture capability and real-time sensitivity of winner Composite Information Server 3.0 and finalist Informaticas PowerExchange 5.2.1.
I hope to see equally outstanding entries in our sixth season, now in progress at www.excellenceawardsonline.com.
Lesson 2: Never get tied too tightly to any single technology, regardless of its merits.
Continually look around the edges of what youre using now to see if theres a better way to do a job thats subtly evolved since your last technology adoption and to see if new capabilities suggest new jobs that might now be worth doing.
Lesson 3: Shop early. That has different meanings in the personal sector, where it means looking for "Black Friday" dawn-patrol sales, and in the enterprise sector, where it means forming early-adopter relationships with promising IT innovators.
Its no fun to be the last in line.
Peter Coffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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