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SanDisk, HP take on Micron and Intel’s faster-than-flash XPoint

Joining forces for Storage Class Memory deal

+Comment HP and SanDisk are joining forces to combat the Intel/Micron 3D XPoint memory threat, and developing their own Storage-Class Memory (SCM) technology.

SCM is persistent memory that runs at DRAM or near-DRAM speed but is less costly, enabling in-memory computing without any overhead of writing to slower persistent data storage such as flash or disk through a CPU cycle-gobbling IO stack. It requires both hardware and software developments.

Micron and Intel’s XPoint memory is claimed to be 1,000 times faster than flash with up to 1,000 times flash's endurance. Oddly enough HP and SanDisk say their SCM technology is also “expected to be up to 1,000 times faster than flash storage and offer up to 1,000 times more endurance than flash storage.”

It also is expected to offer significant cost, power, density and persistence improvements over DRAM technologies, enabling servers to have tens of terabytes of SCM for use with in-memory databases, real-time data analytics, transactional and high-performance computing.

SanDisk’s EVP for memory technology, Siva Sivaram (appropriate last syllable there), said he was pleased at the deepening relationship with HP, to which SanDisk will bring “our complete portfolio of enterprise SAS, SATA and PCIe products, and leading-edge enterprise system solutions.” That sounds like an OEM or reselling type deal.

The partnership’s aim is to create enterprise-class products for Memory-driven Computing and also to build better data centre SSDs. The Storage-Class Memory deal is more long-term: “Our partnership to collaborate on new SCM technology solutions is expected to revolutionise computing in the years ahead.”

HP will contribute its Memristor technology and expertise, while SanDisk will provide non-volatile ReRAM memory technology, not that we knew it had any, and manufacturing and design expertise.

SanDisk CEO Sanjay Mehrotra mentioned ReRAM (Resistive RAM) in April 2013, saying: “If we speak about 3D resistive RAM technology, that is farther out. It is still in very early stages of development. And as we have said before, it requires EUV technology and EUV technology from becoming really cost-effective for byte adoption and production is also a few years away. So 3D NAND technologies in the industry, I believe, two to three years away before they become meaningful."

At the time we assessed 2017/2018 to be a potential production start period for any SanDisk ReRAM technology.

SanDisk’s flash foundry partner Toshiba was known to be working in ReRAM back in 2012.

Micron’s 3D XPoint memory is a form of ReRAM in that its cell binary values are read by checking their resistance, with writing to the cell’s altering their resistance level. Phase-change memory is a form of ReRAM in which the cell material changes its phase from being amorphous to crystalline, with a consequent resistance level change.

It’s not yet known what the XPoint cell process is, beyond being told it’s a bulk change to the material but not a phase-change. Analyst Jim Handy has written an XPoint report which said HP had abandoned its Memristor technology. This SanDisk partnership implies that this point is incorrect.

The HP/SanDisk duo also intend to contribute to HP’s Machine concept, “which reinvents the fundamental architecture of computers to enable a quantum leap in performance and efficiency, while lowering costs and improving security.”

HP CTO and EVP Martin Fink said: “Together, we plan to bring new memory solutions to market and accelerate adoption in the enterprise, while simultaneously advancing HP’s development of The Machine to enable a new computing model over the long term.”

The Memristor has been a future mote in HP’s eye for so long that cynics believe it will always be a future and never actually delivered.


What we can glean from this is that HP’s Memristor technology isn’t ready to take on XPoint memory yet, SanDisk’s ReRAM being roped in for that role, with Memristor following on. HP may start selling SanDisk-created flash products with SanDisk’s 3D NAND technology poised to play a part. This would help HP counter Samsung’s current 3D NAND products.

However nothing has been said about software, with our understanding being that both server OS and application software will need changing before they can take advantage of SCM memory. Much like we have the HANA version of SAP for in-memory computing, we will need HANA-type incarnations of other application software.

This is the first substantial storage industry response to Intel/Micron’s XPoint memory announcement. We would expect Samsung to be working on something and wouldn’t be surprised if SanDisk partner Toshiba had its own marketing activities going on in the area. ®

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