New chip architecture with CPU, storage & sensors in one package

Read an article the other day in MIT news, (3D chip combines computing and data storage) about a new 3D chip out of Stanford and MIT research, which includes CPU, RRAM (resistive RAM) storage class memories and sensors in one single package. Such a chip architecture vastly minimizes the off chip bottleneck to access storage and sensors.

Chip componentry

The chip’s sensors are based on carbon nanotubes. Aside from a layer of silicon at the bottom, all the rest of transistors used in the chip are also based off of carbon nanotube FET (field effect transistors).

The RRAM storage class memory is a based on a dielectric material which uses electrical resistance to store non-volatile data.

The bottom layer is a silicon based CPU. On top of the silicon is a carbon nanotube layer. Next comes the RRAM and the top layer is more carbon nanotubes making up the sensor array.

Architectural benefits

One obvious benefit is having data storage directly accessible to the CPU is that there’s no longer a need to go off chip to access data. The 2nd major advantage to the chip architecture is that the sensor array can write directly to RRAM storage, so there’s no off chip delay to provide sensor readout and storage.

Another advantage to using carbon nanotube FET’s is that they can be an order of magnitude more energy efficient than silicon transistors. Moreover, RRAM has the potential to be much denser than DRAM.

Finally, another major advantage is that this can all be built in one 3D chip because carbon nanotube and RRAM fabrication can be done at relatively cooler temperatures (~200C) vs. silicon fabrication which requires relatively high temperatures (1000C). Silicon cannot be readily fabricated in multiple layers because of the high temperatures required which will harm lower layers. But you could fabricate the lowest layer in silicon and then the rest as either carbon nanotube FETs or RRAM without harming the silicon layer.

Transistor/RRAM counts

The chip as fabricated has a million RRAM cells (bits?) and 2 million nanotube FETs. In contrast, in 2014, Intel’s 15-core Xeon Ivy Bridge EX had 4.3B transistors and current DRAM chips offer 64Gb. So there’s a ways to go before carbon nanotube and RRAM densities can get to a level available from silicon today.

However, as they have a bottom layer of silicon they can have all the CPU complexity of an Intel processor and still build RRAM and carbon nanotubes FETs on top of that. Which makes this chip architecture compatible with current CMOS fabrication techniques and a very interesting addition to current CPU architectures.


Unclear to me why they stopped at 4 layers (1-silicon FET, 1 carbon nanotubes FET, 1 RRAM and 1 carbon nanotubes FET [sensor array]). If they can do 4 why not do 5 or more. That way they could pack in even more RRAM storage and perhaps more sensor layers.

Also, not sure what the bottom most layer of carbon nanotubes is doing. If I had to hazard a guess, it’s being used for RRAM control logic. But I could be wrong.

I could see how these chips could be used for very specialized sensor applications, with a limited need for data storage. The researchers claim many types of sensors can be created using carbon nanotubes. If that’s the case, maybe we might see these sorts of chips showing up all over the place.


Photo Credit(s): Three dimensional integration of nanotechnologies for computing and data storage on a single chip, Nature magazine. 

Hitachi and the coming IoT gold rush

img_7137Earlier this week I attended Hitachi Summit 2016 along with a number of other analysts and Hitachi executives where Hitachi discussed their current and ongoing focus on the IoT (Internet of Things) business.

We have discussed IoT before (see QoM1608: The coming IoT tsunami or not, Extremely low power transistors … new IoT applications). Analysts and companies predict  ~200B IoT devices by 2020 (my QoM prediction is 72.1B 0.7 probability). But in any case there’s a lot of IoT activity going to come online, very shortly. Hitachi is already active in IoT and if anything, wants it to grow, significantly.

Hitachi’s current IoT business

Hitachi is uniquely positioned to take on the IoT business over the coming decades, having a number of current businesses in industrial processes, transportation, energy production, water management, etc. Over time, all these industries and more are becoming much more data driven and smarter as IoT rolls out.

Some metrics indicating the scale of Hitachi’s current IoT business, include:

  • Hitachi is #79 in the Fortune Global 500;
  • Hitachi’s generated $5.4B (FY15) in IoT revenue;
  • Hitachi IoT R&D investment is $2.3B (over 3 years);
  • Hitachi has 15K customers Worldwide and 1400+ partners; and
  • Hitachi spends ~$3B in R&D annually and has 119K patents

img_7142Hitachi has been in the OT (Operational [industrial] Technology) business for over a century now. Hitachi has also had a very successful and ongoing IT business (Hitachi Data Systems) for decades now.  Their main competitors in this IoT business are GE and Siemans but neither have the extensive history in IT that Hitachi has had. But both are working hard to catchup.

Hitachi Rail-as-a-Service

img_7152For one example of what Hitachi is doing in IoT, they have recently won a 27.5 year Rail-as-a-Service contract to upgrade, ticket, maintain and manage all new trains for UK Rail.  This entails upgrading all train rolling stock, provide upgraded rail signaling, traffic management systems, depot and station equipment and ticketing services for all of UK Rail.

img_7153The success and profitability of this Hitachi service offering hinges on their ability to provide more cost efficient rail transport. A key capability they plan to deliver is predictive maintenance.

Today, in UK and most other major rail systems, train high availability is often supplied by using spare rolling stock, that’s pre-positioned and available to call into service, when needed. With Hitachi’s new predictive maintenance capabilities, the plan is to reduce, if not totally eliminate the need for spare rolling stock inventory and keep the new trains running 7X24.

img_7145Hitachi said their new trains capture 48K data items and generate over ~25GB/train/day. All this data, will be fed into their new Hitachi Insight Group Lumada platform which includes Pentaho, HSDP (Hitachi Streaming Data Platform) and their Content Analytics to analyze train data and determine how best to keep the trains running. Behind all this analytical power will no doubt be HDS HCP object store used to keep track of all the train sensor data and other information, Hitachi UCP servers to process it all, and other Hitachi software and hardware to glue it all together.

The new trains and services will be rolled out over time, but there’s a pretty impressive time table. For instance, Hitachi will add 120 new high speed trains to UK Rail by 2018.  About the only thing that Hitachi is not directly responsible for in this Rail-as-a-Service offering, is the communications network for the trains.

Hitachi other IoT offerings

Hitachi is actively seeking other customers for their Rail-as-a-service IoT service offering. But it doesn’t stop there, they would like to offer smart-water-as-a-service, smart-city-as-a-service, digital-energy-as-a-service, etc.

There’s almost nothing that Hitachi currently supplies as industrial products that they wouldn’t consider offering in an X-as-a-service solution. With HDS Lumada Analytics, HCP and HDS storage systems, Hitachi UCP converged infrastructure, Hitachi industrial products, and Hitachi consulting services, together they are primed to take over the IoT-industrial products/services market.

Welcome to the new Hitachi IoT world.


Scality’s Open Source S3 Driver

The view from Scality’s conference room

We were at Scality last week for Cloud Field Day 1 (CFD1) and one of the items they discussed was their open source S3 driver. (Videos available here).

Scality was on the 25th floor of a downtown San Francisco office tower. And the view outside the conference room was great. Giorgio Regni, CTO, Scality, said on the two days a year it wasn’t foggy out, you could even see Golden Gate Bridge from their conference room.


img_6912As you may recall, Scality is an object storage solution that came out of the telecom, consumer networking industry to provide Google/Facebook like storage services to other customers.

Scality RING is a software defined object storage that supports a full complement of interface legacy and advanced protocols including, NFS, CIGS/SMB, Linux FUSE, RESTful native, SWIFT, CDMI and Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3. Scality also supports replication and erasure coding based on object size.

RING 6.0 brings AWS IAM style authentication to Scality object storage. Scality pricing is based on usable storage and you bring your own hardware.

Giorgio also gave a session on the RING’s durability (reliability) which showed they support 13-9’s data availability. He flashed up the math on this but it was too fast for me to take down:)

Scality has been on the market since 2010 and has been having a lot of success lately, having grown 150% in revenue this past year. In the media and entertainment space, Scality has won a lot of business with their S3 support. But their other interface protocols are also very popular.

Why S3?

It looks as if AWS S3 is becoming the defacto standard for object storage. AWS S3 is the largest current repository of objects. As such, other vendors and solution providers now offer support for S3 services whenever they need an object/bulk storage tier behind their appliances/applications/solutions.

This has driven every object storage vendor to also offer S3 “compatible” services to entice these users to move to their object storage solution. In essence, the object storage industry, like it or not, is standardizing on S3 because everyone is using it.

But how can you tell if a vendor’s S3 solution is any good. You could always try it out to see if it worked properly with your S3 application, but that involves a lot of heavy lifting.

However, there is another way. Take an S3 Driver and run your application against that. Assuming your vendor supports all the functionality used in the S3 Driver, it should all work with the real object storage solution.

Open source S3 driver

img_6916Scality open sourced their S3 driver just to make this process easier. Now, one could just download their S3server driver (available from Scality’s GitHub) and start it up.

Scality’s S3 driver runs ontop of a Docker Engine so to run it on your desktop you would need to install Docker Toolbox for older Mac or Windows systems or run Docker for Mac or Docker for Windows for newer systems. (We also talked with Docker at CFD1).

img_6933Firing up the S3server on my Mac

I used Docker for Mac but I assume the terminal CLI is the same for both.Downloading and installing Docker for Mac was pretty straightforward.  Starting it up took just a double click on the Docker application, which generates a toolbar Docker icon. You do need to enter your login password to run Docker for Mac but once that was done, you have Docker running on your Mac.

Open up a terminal window and you have the full Docker CLI at your disposal. You can download the latest S3 Server from Scality’s Docker hub by executing  a pull command (docker pull scality/s3server), to fire it up, you need to define a new container (docker run -d –name s3server -p 8000:8000 scality/s3server) and then start it (docker start s3server).

It’s that simple to have a S3server running on your Mac. The toolbox approach for older Mac’s and PC’S is a bit more complicated but seems simple enough.

The data is stored in the container and persists until you stop/delete the container. However, there’s an option to store the data elsewhere as well.

I tried to use CyberDuck to load some objects into my Mac’s S3server but couldn’t get it to connect properly. I wrote up a ticket to the S3server community. It seemed to be talking to the right port, but maybe I needed to do an S3cmd to initialize the bucket first – I think.

[Update 2016Sep19: Turns out the S3 server getting started doc said you should download an S3 profile for Cyberduck. I didn’t do that originally because I had already been using S3 with Cyberduck. But did that just now and it now works just like it’s supposed to. My mistake]


Anyways, it all seemed pretty straight forward to run S3server on my Mac. If I was an application developer, it would make a lot of sense to try S3 this way before I did anything on the real AWS S3. And some day, when I grew tired of paying AWS, I could always migrate to Scality RING S3 object storage – or at least that’s the idea.


Pure Storage FlashBlade well positioned for next generation storage

IMG_6344Sometimes, long after I listen to a vendor’s discussion, I come away wondering why they do what they do. Oftentimes, it passes but after a recent session with Pure Storage at SFD10, it lingered.

Why engineer storage hardware?

In the last week or so, executives at Hitachi mentioned that they plan to reduce  hardware R&D activities for their high end storage. There was much confusion what it all meant but from what I hear, they are ahead now, and maybe it makes more sense to do less hardware and more software for their next generation high end storage. We have talked about hardware vs. software innovation a lot (see recent post: TPU and hardware vs. software innovation [round 3]).
Continue reading “Pure Storage FlashBlade well positioned for next generation storage”

An analyst forecasting contest ala SuperForecasting & 1st #Storage-QoW

71619318_80d2135743_zI recently read the book SuperForecasting: the art and science of prediction by P. E. Tetlock & D. Gardner. Their Good Judgement Project has been running for years now and the book is the results of their experiments.  I thought it was a great book.

But it also got me to thinking, how can industry analysts do a better job at forecasting storage trends and events?

Impossible to judge most analyst forecasts

One thing the book mentioned was that typically analyst/pundit forecasts are too infrequent, vague and time independent to be judge-able as to their accuracy. I have committed this fault as much as anyone in this blog and on our GreyBeards on Storage podcast (e.g. see our Yearend podcast videos…).

What do we need to do differently?

The experiments documented in the book show us the way. One suggestion is to start putting time durations/limits on all forecasts so that we can better assess analyst accuracy. The other is to start estimating a probability for a forecast and updating your estimate periodically when new information becomes available. Another is to document your rational for making your forecast. Also, do post mortems on both correct and incorrect forecasts to learn how to forecast better.

Finally, make more frequent forecasts so that accuracy can be assessed statistically. The book discusses Brier scores as a way of scoring the accuracy of forecasters.

How to be better forecasters?

In the back of the book the author’s publish a list of helpful hints or guidelines to better forecasting which I will summarize here (read the book for more information):

  1. Triage – focus on questions where your work will pay off.  For example, try not to forecast anything that’s beyond say 5 years out, because there’s just too much randomness that can impact results.
  2. Split intractable problems into tractable ones – the author calls this Fermizing (after the physicist) who loved to ballpark answers to hard questions by breaking them down into easier questions to answer. So decompose problems into simpler (answerable) problems.
  3. Balance inside and outside views – search for comparisons (outside) that can be made to help estimate unique events and balance this against your own knowledge/opinions (inside) on the question.
  4. Balance over- and under-reacting to new evidence – as forecasts are updated periodically, new evidence should impact your forecasts. But a balance has to be struck as to how much new evidence should change forecasts.
  5. Search for clashing forces at work – in storage there are many ways to store data and perform faster IO. Search out all the alternatives, especially ones that can critically impact your forecast.
  6. Distinguish all degrees of uncertainty – there are many degrees of knowability, try to be as nuanced as you can and properly aggregate your uncertainty(ies) across aspects of the question to create a better overall forecast.
  7. Balance under/over confidence, prudence/decisiveness – rushing to judgement can be as bad as dawdling too long. You must get better at both calibration (how accurate multiple forecasts are) and resolution (decisiveness in forecasts). For calibration think weather rain forecasts, if rain tomorrow is 80% probably then over time rain probability estimates should be on average correct. Resolution is no guts no glory, if all your estimates are between 0.4 and 0.6 probable, your probably being to conservative to really be effective.
  8. During post mortems, beware of hindsight bias – e.g., of course we were going to have flash in storage because the price was coming down, controllers were becoming more sophisticated, reliability became good enough, etc., represents hindsight bias. What was known before SSDs came to enterprise storage was much less than this.

There are a few more hints than the above.  In the Good Judgement Project, forecasters were put in teams and there’s one guideline that deals with how to be better forecasters on teams. Then, there’s another that says don’t treat these guidelines as gospel. And a third, on trying to balance between over and under compensating for recent errors (which sounds like #4 above).

Again, I would suggest reading the book if you want to learn more.

Storage analysts forecast contest

I think we all want to be better forecasters. At least I think so. So I propose a multi-year long contest, where someone provides a storage question of the week and analyst,s such as myself, provide forecasts. Over time we can score the forecasts by creating a Brier score for each analysts set of forecasts.

I suggest we run the contest for 1 year to see if there’s any improvements in forecasting and decide again next year to see if we want to continue.

Question(s) of the week

But the first step in better forecasting is to have more frequent and better questions to forecast against.

I suggest that the analysts community come up with a question of the week. Then, everyone would get one week from publication to record their forecast. Over time as the forecasts come out we can then score analysts in their forecasting ability.

I would propose we use some sort of hash tag to track new questions, “#storage-QoW” might suffice and would stand for Question of the week for storage.

Not sure if one question a week is sufficient but that seems reasonable.

(#Storage-QoW 2015-001): Will 3D XPoint be GA’d in  enterprise storage systems within 12 months?

3D XPoint NVM was announced last July by Intel-Micron (wrote a post about here). By enterprise storage I mean enterprise and mid-range class, shared storage systems, that are accessed as block storage via Ethernet or Fibre Channel as SCSI device protocols or as file storage using SMB or NFS file access protocols. By 12 months I mean by EoD 12/8/2016. By GA’d, I mean announced as generally available and sellable in any of the major IT regions of the world (USA, Europe, Asia, or Middle East).

I hope to have my prediction in by next Monday with the next QoW as well.

Anyone interested in participating please email me at Ray [at] SilvertonConsulting <dot> com and put QoW somewhere in the title. I will keep actual names anonymous unless told otherwise. Brier scores will be calculated starting after the 12th forecast.

Please email me your forecasts. Initial forecasts need to be in by one week after the QoW goes live.  You can update your forecasts at any time.

Forecasts should be of the form “[YES|NO] Probability [0.00 to 0.99]”.

Better forecasting demands some documentation of your rational for your forecasts. You don’t have to send me your rational but I suggest you document it someplace you can use to refer back to during post mortems.

Let me know if you have any questions and I will try to answer them here

I could use more storage questions…


Photo Credits: Renato Guerreiro, Crystalballer

Blood in the racks

IMG_4537Read an ArsTechnica UK article the other day (IBM is trying to solve all of computing’s scaling issues with 5D electronic blood) about IBM Research in Zurich working on supplying electricity and cooling to their super computer servers using a form of electronic blood. What this has to do with 5D is another question entirely.

Why blood?

As we all know mammalian blood provides both cooling and nutrients to organisms within an animal. IBM’s electronic blood would be used to provide thermal cooling to their server circuitry as well as electronic energy to those same circuits.

One of the problems with todays chips is that with more components being added each year, their heat density (W/mm**2) is going up significantly. But the power feeds are also increasing as components counts go up. All of this is leading to a serious problems in trying to cool and power ever denser chips. The article says that for Intel’s recent Ivy Bridge chips, a majority of its 1155 pins are for power delivery and its heat density is ~0.5W/mm**2.

IBM research takes a radical turn

IBM has been working with micro fluidic pathways in their chips to supply cooling to the areas of the chips that need it the most. But by adding electronic charges to these cooling fluids they hope to be able to  power their chips as well as cool them with the same mechanism.

Electronic charges are carried in soluble oxygen-reduction (redox) particles that can be oxidized to supply electricity and then reduced for recharge. IBM R&D have shown that their electronic blood charge-discharge cycle can be up to 80% efficient using 1V power.

Not sure I understand why they call in 5D but maybe if you read the IBM research paper (requires paymen) there would be a better explanation. The ArsTechnica paper takes a shot but other than cooling being the 4th dimension and power the 5th dimension, I’m not sure what the other 3 are used for.


Moore’s law is still working with new 2D-electronics, just 1nm thin

ncomms8749-f1This week scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created two dimensional nano-electronic circuits just 1nm tall (see Nature Communications article). Apparently they were able to create one crystal two crystals ontop of one another, then infused the top that layer with sulfur. With that as a base they used  standard scalable photolitographic and electron beam lithographic processing techniques to pattern electronic junctions in the crystal layer and then used a pulsed laser evaporate to burn off selective sulfur atoms from a target (selective sulferization of the material), converting MoSe2 to MoS2. At the end of this process was a 2D electronic circuit just 3 atoms thick, with heterojunctions, molecularly similar to pristine MOS available today, but at much thinner (~1nm) and smaller scale (~5nm).

In other news this month, IBM also announced that they had produced working prototypes of a ~7nm transistor in a processor chip (see NY Times article). IBM sold off their chip foundry a while ago to Global Foundries, but continue working on semiconductor research with SEMATECH, an Albany NY semiconductor research consortium. Recently Samsung and Intel left SEMATECH, maybe a bit too early.

On the other hand, Intel announced they were having some problems getting to the next node in the semiconductor roadmap after their current 14nm transistor chips (see Fortune article).  Intel stated that the last two generations took  2.5 years instead of 2 years, and that pace is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  Intel seems to be spending more research and $’s creating low-power or new (GPUs) types of processing than in a mad rush to double transistors every 2 years.

480px-Comparison_semiconductor_process_nodes.svgSo taking it all in, Moore’s law is still being fueled by Billion $ R&D budgets and the ever increasing demand for more transistors per area. It may take a little longer to double the transistors on a chip, but we can see at least another two generations down the ITRS semiconductor roadmap. That is, if the Oak Ridge research proves manufacturable as it seems to be.

So Moore’s law has at least another generation or two to run. Whether there’s a need for more processing power is anyone’s guess but the need for cheaper flash, non-volatile memory and DRAM is a certainty for as far as I can see.


Photo Credits: 

  1. From “Patterned arrays of lateral heterojunctions within monolayer two-dimensional semiconductors”, by Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, Ming-Wei Lin, Kai Wang, Andrew R. Lupini, Jaekwang Lee, Leonardo Basile, Abdelaziz Boulesbaa, Christopher M. Rouleau, Alexander A. Puretzky, Ilia N. Ivanov, Kai Xiao, Mina Yoon & David B. Geohegan
  2. From Comparison semiconductor process nodes” by Cmglee – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Racetrack memory gets rolling

A recent MIT study showed how new technology can be used to control and write magnetized bits in nano-structures, using voltage alone. This new technique also consumes much less power than using magnets or magnetism as well.

They envision a sort of nano-circuit, -wire or -racetrack with a series of transistor-like structures spaced at regular intervals above it.  Nano-bits would be racing around these nano-wires as a series of magnetized domains.  These new transitor-like devices would be a sort of onramp for the bits as well as stop-lights/speed limits for the racetrack.

Magnetic based racetrack memory issues

The problems with using magnets to write the bits in nano-racetrack is that magnetism casts a wide shadow and can impact adjacent race tracks, sort of like shingled writes (we last discussed in Shingled magnetic recording disks).   The other problem has been a way to (magnetically) control the speed of racing bits so they can be isolated and read or written effectively.

Magneto-ionic racetrack memory solutions

But MIT researchers have discovered a way to use voltage to change the magnetic orientation of a bit on a race track.  They also found a way through the use of voltage to precisely control the position of magnetic bits speeding around the track and to electronically isolate and select a bit.

What they have created is sort of a transistor for magnetized domains using ion-rich materials.  Voltages can be used to attract or repel those ions and then those ions can interact with flowing magnetic domains to speed up or slow down the movement of magnetic domains.

Thus, the transistor-like device can  be set to attract (or speed up) magnetized domains, slow down magnetized domains or stop them and also be used to change the magnetic orientation of a domain.  MIT researchers call these devices Magneto-ionic devices.

Racetrack memory redefined

So now we have a way to (electronically) seek to bit data on a race track,  a way to precisely (electronically) select bits on the race track, and a way to precisely (electronically) write data on a race track.  And presumably, with an appropriate (magnetic) read head, a way to read this data.  As an added bonus, apparently data once written on the racetrack requires no additional power to stay magnetized.

So the transistor-like devices are a combination of write heads, motors and brakes for the racetrack memory.  Not sure,  but if they can write, slow down and speedup magnetic domains, why can’t they read them as well that way the transistor-like devices could be a read head as well.

Why do they need more than one write-head per track. It seems to me that one should suffice for a fairly long track, not unlike disk drives. I suppose  more of them would make the track faster to write. But  they would all have to operate in tandem, speeding up or stoping the racing bits on the track all together and then starting them all back up, together again.  Maybe this way they can write a byte or a word or a chunk of data all at the same time.

In any event, it seems that race track memory took a (literally) quantum leap  forward with this new research out of MIT.

Racetrack memory futures

IBM has been talking about race track memory for some time now and this might be the last hurdle to overcome to getting there (we last discussed this in A “few exabytes-a-day” from SKA post).

In addition,  there doesn’t appear to be any write cycle, bit duration or the need for erasing whole page issues with this type of technology.  So as an underlying storage for a new sort of semi-conductor storage device (SSD) this has significant inherent advantages.

Not to mention that is all based on nano-based device sizes which means that it can pack a lot of bits in very little volume or area.  So SSDs based on these racetrack memory technologies will be denser, faster, and require less energy – could you want.

Image: Nürburgring 2012 by Juriën Minke