The Future of Storage: Blending New and Old

New storage media are evolving rapidly, while old standards just keep on working.

Storage is continuing to develop at a breathless pace-both in the use of advanced materials and in the way those materials are being applied.

New products and services involving NAND (Not AND) flash, Peripheral Component Interconnect express (PCIe) cards, image cloning, storage pooling, automation, improved capacity management and enhanced aerial density on digital tape are coming into the market from established companies and startups alike. These technologies will provide the foundation for future storage IT.

Even tried-and-true hard-disk drives and long-term table storage will remain in wide use for at least the next 10 to 20 years, as much as the solid-state storage makers would like to see both technologies fade away, according to most analysts. Enterprises have too much IT capital invested in those technologies, and they work well enough in their established applications. Besides, the newest storage technology isn't ready for prime time yet.
Phase-change Memory in the Offing

One of the futuristic technologies is a hot, but not exactly new one called phase-change memory (PCM), a potential replacement for NAND flash solid-state storage. Around for more than 40 years, PCM is a key component of rewritable CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray storage disks that use laser optics. But only in the last decade has research by IBM, Intel, Micron (through its PCM-dedicated Numonyx arm) and Hynix showed that PCM also can serve well in the digital data storage sector.

Flash disks are limited to holding one bit of data per storage cell. About six months ago, however, IBM's PCM research team in Zurich found a way to enable each PCM cell to hold multiple data bits securely; previously, bits often became lost or corrupt at unpredictable times.

"We've now addressed this problem, and we believe we've solved it," Dr. Haris Pozidis, manager of memory and probe technologies at IBM Research in Zurich, told eWEEK.

Pozidis said this latest development can lead to solid-state chips that can store as much data as NAND flash disks, which now are up to 1TB in capacity, but deliver about 100 times faster data movement speed to go with a much longer lifespan. "Today's enterprise flash can endure about 30,000 read/write cycles; today's PCM chips can do in excess of 10 million cycles," Pozidis said.

That's magnitude-scale improvement. Performance like that looks awfully good to storage manufacturers and enterprise IT decision-makers. However, Pozidis and other experts have said that PCM is still three to five years away from being productized. There's much more testing to do, and manufacturers have yet to figure out how to produce it on a mass scale.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...