Tag Archives: NVMe

50: Greybeards wrap up Flash Memory Summit with Jim Handy, Director at Objective Analysis

In this episode we talk with Jim Handy (@thessdguy), Director at Objective Analysis,  a semiconductor market research organization. Jim is an old friend and was on last year to discuss Flash Memory Summit (FMS) 2016. Jim, Howard and I all attended FMS 2017 last week  in Santa Clara and Jim and Howard were presenters at the show.

NVMe & NVMeF to the front

Although, unfortunately the show floor was closed due to fire, there were plenty of sessions and talks about NVMe and NVMeF (NVMe over fabric). Howard believes NVMe & NVMeF seems to be being adopted much quicker than anyone had expected. It’s already evident inside storage systems like Pure’s new FlashArray//X, Kamanario and E8 storage, which is already shipping block storage with NVMe and NVMeF.

Last year PCIe expanders and switches seemed like the wave of the future but ever since then, NVMe and NVMeF has taken off. Historically, there’s been a reluctance to add capacity shelves to storage systems because of the complexity of (FC and SAS) cable connections. But with NVMeF, RoCE and RDMA, it’s now just an (40GbE or 100GbE) Ethernet connection away, considerably easier and less error prone.

3D NAND take off

Both Samsung and Micron are talking up their 64 layer 3D NAND and the rest of the industry following. The NAND shortage has led to fewer price reductions, but eventually when process yields turn up, the shortage will collapse and pricing reductions should return en masse.

The reason that vertical, 3D is taking over from planar (2D) NAND is that planar NAND can’t’ be sharing much more and 15nm is going to be the place it stays at for a long time to come. So the only way to increase capacity/chip and reduce $/Gb, is up.

But as with any new process technology, 3D NAND is having yield problems. But whenever the last yield issue is solved, which seems close,  we should see pricing drop precipitously and much more plentiful (3D) NAND storage.

One thing that has made increasing 3D NAND capacity that much easier is string stacking. Jim describes string stacking as creating a unit, of say 32 layers, which you can fabricate as one piece  and then layer ontop of this an insulating layer. Now you can start again, stacking another 32 layer block ontop and just add another insulating layer.

The problem with more than 32-48 layers is that you have to (dig) create  holes (connecting) between all the layers which have to be (atomically) very straight and coated with special materials. Anyone who has dug a hole knows that the deeper you go, the harder it is to make the hole walls straight. With current technology, 32 layers seem just about as far as they can go.

3DX and similar technologies

There’s been quite a lot of talk the last couple of years about 3D XPoint (3DX) and what it  means for the storage and server industry. Intel has released Octane client SSDs but there’s no enterprise class 3DX SSDs as of yet.

The problem is similar to 3D NAND above, current yields suck.  There’s a chicken and egg problem with any new chip technologies. You need volumes to get the yield up and you need yields up to generate the volumes you need. And volumes with good yields generate profits to re-invest in the cycle for next technology.

Intel can afford to subsidize (lose money) 3DX technology until they get the yields up, knowing full well that when they do, it will become highly profitable.

The key is to price the new technology somewhere between levels in the storage hierarchy, for 3DX that means between NAND and DRAM. This does mean that 3DX will be more of between memory and SSD tier than a replacement for for either DRAM or SSDs.

The recent emergence of NVDIMMs have provided the industry a platform (based on NAND and DRAM) where they can create the software and other OS changes needed to support this mid tier as a memory level. So that when 3DX comes along as a new memory tier they will be ready

NAND shortages, industry globalization & game theory

Jim has an interesting take on how and when the NAND shortage will collapse.

It’s a cyclical problem seen before in DRAM and it’s a question of investment. When there’s an oversupply of a chip technology (like NAND), suppliers cut investments or rather don’t grow investments as fast as they were. Ultimately this leads to a shortage and which then leads to  over investment to catch up with demand.  When this starts to produce chips the capacity bottleneck will collapse and prices will come down hard.

Jim believes that as 3D NAND suppliers start driving yields up and $/Gb down, 2D NAND fabs will turn to DRAM or other electronic circuitry whichwill lead to a price drop there as well.

Jim mentioned game theory is the way the Fab industry has globalized over time. As emerging countries build fabs, they must seek partners to provide the technology to produce product. They offer these companies guaranteed supplies of low priced product for years to help get the fabs online. Once, this period is over the fabs never return to home base.

This approach has led to Japan taking over DRAM & other chip production, then Korea, then Taiwan and now China. It will move again. I suppose this is one reason IBM got out of the chip fab business.

The podcast runs ~49 minutes but Jim is a very knowledgeable, chip industry expert and a great friend from multiple  events. Howard and I had fun talking with him again. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Jim Handy, Director at Objective Analysis

Jim Handy of Objective Analysis has over 35 years in the electronics industry including 20 years as a leading semiconductor and SSD industry analyst. Early in his career he held marketing and design positions at leading semiconductor suppliers including Intel, National Semiconductor, and Infineon.

A frequent presenter at trade shows, Mr. Handy is known for his technical depth, accurate forecasts, widespread industry presence and volume of publication. He has written hundreds of market reports, articles for trade journals, and white papers, and is frequently interviewed and quoted in the electronics trade press and other media.  He posts blogs at www.TheMemoryGuy.com, and www.TheSSDguy.com

35: GreyBeards talk Flash Memory Summit wrap-up with Jim Handy, Objective Analysis

In this episode, we talk with Jim Handy (@thessdguy), memory and flash analyst at Objective Analysis. Jim’s been on our podcast before and last time we had a great talk on flash trends. As Jim, Howard and Ray were all at Flash Memory Summit (FMS 2016) last week, we thought it appropriate to get together and discuss what we found interesting at the summit

Flash is undergoing significant change. We started our discussion with which vendor had the highest density flash device. It’s not that easy to answer because of all the vendors at the show. For example Micron’s shipping a 32 GB chip and Samsung announced a 1TB BGA. And as for devices, Seagate announced a monster, 3.5″ 60TB SSD.

MicroSD cards have 16-17 NAND chips plus a mini-controller, at that level, with a 32GB chip, we could have a ~0.5TB MicroSD card in the near future. No discussion on pricing but Howard’s expectation is that they will be expensive.

NVMe over fabric push

One main topic of conversation at FMS was how NVMe over fabric is emerging. There were a few storage vendors at FMS taking advantage of this, including E8 Storage and Mangstor, both showing off NVMe over Ethernet flash storage. But there were plenty of others talking NVMe over fabric and all the major NAND manufacturers couldn’t talk enough about NVMe.

Facebook’s keynote had a couple of surprises. One was their request for WORM (QLC) flash.  It appears that Facebook plans on keeping user data forever. Another item of interest was their Open Compute Project Lightning JBOF (just a bunch of flash) device using NVMe over Ethernet (see Ray’s post on Facebook’s move to JBOF). They were also interested in ganging up M.2 SSDs into a single package. And finally they discussed their need for SCM.

Storage class memory

The other main topic was storage class memory (SCM), and all the vendors talked about it. Sadly, the timeline for Intel-Micron 3D Xpoint has them supplying sample chips/devices by year end next year (YE2017) and releasing devices to market with SCM the following year (2018). They did have one (hand built) SSD at the show with remarkable performance.

On the other hand, there are other SCM’s on the market, including EverSpin (MRAM) and CrossBar (ReRAM). Both of these vendors had products on display but their capacities were on the order of Mbits rather than Gbits.

It turns out they’re both using ~90nm fab technology and need to get their volumes up before they can shrink their technologies to hit higher densities. However, now that everyone’s talking about SCM, they are starting to see some product wins.  In fact, Mangstor is using EverSpin as a non-volatile write buffer.

Jim explained that 90nm is where DRAM was in 2005 but EverSpin/CrossBar’s bit density is better than DRAM was at the time. But DRAM is now on 15-10nm class technologies and sell 10B DRAM chips/year. EverSpin and CrossBar (together?) are doing more like 10M chips/year. The costs to shrink to the latest technology are ~$100M to generate the masks required. So for these vendors, volumes have to go up drastically before capacity can increase significantly.

Also, at the show Toshiba mentioned they’re focusing on ReRAM for their SCM.

As Jim recounted, the whole SCM push has been driven by Intel and their need to keep improving the performance of memory and storage, otherwise they felt their processor sales would stall.

3D NAND is here

IMG_6719Just about every NAND manufacturer talked about their 3D NAND chips, ranging from 32 layers to 64 layers. From Jim’s perspective, 3D NAND was inevitable, as it was the only way to continue scaling in density and reducing bit costs for NAND.

Samsung was first to market with 3D NAND as a way to show technological leadership. But now everyone’s got it and providing future discussions on bit density and number of layers.  What their yields are is another question. But Planar NAND’s days are over.

Toshiba’s FlashMatrix

IMG_6720Toshiba’s keynote discussed a new flash storage system called the FlashMatrix but at press time they had yet to share their slides with the FMS team,  so  information on FlashMatrix was sketchy at best.

However, they had one on the floor and it looked like a bunch of M2 flash across an NVMe (over Ethernet?) mesh backplane with compute engines connected at the edge.

We had a hard time understanding why Toshiba would do this. Our best guess is perhaps they want to provide OEMs an alternative to SanDisk’s Infiniflash.

The podcast runs over 50 minutes and covers flash technology on display at the show and the history of SCM. I think Howard and Ray could easily spend a day with Jim and not exhaust his knowledge of Flash and we haven’t really touched on DRAM. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Jim Handy, Memory and Flash analyst at Objective Analysis.

JH Mug BW

Jim Handy of Objective Analysis has over 35 years in the electronics industry including 20 years as a leading semiconductor and SSD industry analyst. Early in his career he held marketing and design positions at leading semiconductor suppliers including Intel, National Semiconductor, and Infineon.

A frequent presenter at trade shows, Mr. Handy is known for his technical depth, accurate forecasts, widespread industry presence and volume of publication. He has written hundreds of market reports, articles for trade journals, and white papers, and is frequently interviewed and quoted in the electronics trade press and other media.  He posts blogs at www.TheMemoryGuy.com, and www.TheSSDguy.com.