You need combined flash foundry product smarts and controller technology to succeed in the flash business, and Micron says it has both.
The semiconductor-maker has flash foundries and delivers both solid state drives (SSDs) and PCIe-connected flash cards – the single level cell P320h for example, which is used by EMC in its VFCache product. A hot-swap version of the P320h has been adopted by Dell for server use.
Micron has opened its flash product and technology kimono a little to give us a tantalising peak into the future, via a webcast.
Its main pitch is that flash technology is going to get more complex, needing closer integration of controllers and NAND chips. Glenn Hawk, the VP for Micron's NAND solutions group, said: "Those who have an intimate knowledge of NAND technology are going to have an advantage in terms of bringing leading-edge products ... to the world." In other words you need to understand the intimate details of flash dies with your controller technology and Micron is best-positioned to do this because its has its own flash fabs. Competitors like Fusion-io, LSI and OCZ do not.
The company organises its NAND products into client and enterprise products.
In client SSDs, which utilise the SATA interface and third-party controllers, such as ones from Marvell, Micron has the C400 entry-level system and sees mainstream and performance segments as well as the entry-level segment. It will introduce 20nm-class (29nm - 20nm process geometry range) SATA SSDs in the next few months and 1X nm (19-10nm range) after that. The entry-level focus is to drive down cost; the mainstream and performance segments focus is to increase performance.
Over time it sees the SATA bus getting saturated and some form of PCIe client SSDs being developed.
In the enterprise segment, with its in-house controllers, there is a P400m SATA product coming as well as a P410m SAS product for storage arrays. The P400M is a 25nm-class product and in qualification with OEMs now. The PCIe area is very interesting to Micron and it characterises the competition (Fusion-io we understand) as offering host-based management which limits flash performance and sucks up host CPU cycles.
Micron prefers flash drive-based management, enabled by the use of an ASIC-based controller to drive the flash faster and release host server CPU cycles.
We understand Micron has multi-level cell PCIe flash cards in development.
The company sees a fusion of PCIe and SAS architectures in the 2015-2016 period together with a ramping of new memory technology. It's certain that it can continue to drive capacity and cost/GB improvements from its current 2X nm planar technology to 1X nm lithography by using 3D NAND technology, stacking dies in effect, and then, when NAND technology hits a cul de sac, on to what it calls a couple of bets in emerging technology, meaning phase-change memory (PCM) and one other technology.
The company also aims to offer a shared flash system. According to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers, this will use PCIe P320h flash cards and the PCIe sharing technology Micron acquired by buying Virtensys. He sees revenue shipments in mid-2013 and production versions in late 2013.
Such a product would compete with EMC's Thunder development, Violin Memory networked flash arrays and systems using Fusion-io's ION data acceleration technology.
Micron is telling the world that's its in the flash product business for the long haul and believes its vertical flash foundry and controller technology integration gives it the necessary edge. Watch out Fusion-io, LSI, OCZ, SAnDisk, STEC and everybody else – Micron is coming. ®