NAND Flash at 25: Popularity Doesn't Appear to Be Waning Anytime Soon

NEWS ANALYSIS: Sparked by huge sales of iPhones, iPads and solid-state server chips, NAND flash took off in 1987 and hasn't looked back.

NAND flash memory, the nonvolatile solid-state media that has changed the data storage industry in a profound way, is 25 years old this year and has developed into a strategic IT force that no one could have imagined back in its early days.

NAND chips are primarily found in USB keys, solid-state processors, small notebook and tablet PCs, videocams, surveillance cameras, and a number of other connected devices€”mostly mobile phones.

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Flash memory was invented by Toshiba scientist Dr. Fujio Masuoka around 1980. Toshiba contends that the name "flash" was suggested by Dr. Masuoka's colleague, Mr. Sho-ji Ariizumi, because the erasure process of the memory contents reminded him of the flash of a camera.

Toshiba commercialized NAND flash in 1987; since then, the solid-state storage media has taken off and hasn't looked back. Go here to view a slide show on key milestones in NAND flash history.

Market Has Grown Year-Over-Year€”for Years

The NAND flash market has grown rapidly, with flash memory shipping almost eight times more gigabytes of capacity in 2011 than DRAM (dynamic random access memory, which runs much hotter as a volatile media). NAND flash clearly has become the high-density silicon storage of choice.

NAND flash memory is used in a variety of memory cards and USB drives, and is found in many consumer, industrial and enterprise cloud applications. Apple's iPhone, iPod and iPad are three of the most currently successful commercial usages of NAND flash. Android smartphones and tablets also utilize NAND flash.

The high-density NAND (which stands for "Not AND," a Boolean logic operation that is true if any single input is false) type must also be programmed and read in smaller blocks, or pages, while the NOR type allows a single byte to be written or read independently. NOR flash is preferred for flash devices used to store and run code, usually in small capacities.

Flash Offers New Options to Enterprises

The addition of solid-state NAND flash memory and data storage to conventional magnetic spinning disk hard drives has given enterprises new options to run their key business server and storage applications. Because it has no moving parts, NAND flash is able to process and move data faster from one place to another, thanks to its superior read/write performance. High-transactional applications, such as those used in financial services, retail and Web-based cloud services, often deploy servers loaded with NAND flash.

NAND flash may be looking forward to another 25 years or more in production use. Intriguing solid-state storage media that is in development€”Hewlett-Packard's memristor and Intel's phase-change memory€”are still years away from commercial use, so NAND flash is expected to be the market leader for a long while.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 10 years and more than 3,500 stories at eWEEK, he has distinguished...