86: Greybeards talk FMS19 wrap up and flash trends with Jim Handy, General Director, Objective Analysis

This is our annual Flash Memory Summit podcast with Jim Handy, General Director, Objective Analysis. It’s the 5th time we have had Jim on our show. Jim is also an avid blogger writing about memory and SSD at TheMemoryGuy and TheSSDGuy, respectively.

NAND market trends

Jim started off our discussion on the significant price drop in the NAND market over the last two years. He said that prices ($/GB) have dropped 60% last year and are projected to drop about 30% this year.

The problem is over production and as vendors are prohibited from dropping prices below cost, they tend to flatten out at production cost. NAND pricing will remain there until supplies start tightening again. Jim doesn’t see that happening until 2021.

He says although this NAND price drops don’t end up reducing SSD prices, it does allow us to buy more SSD storage for the same price. So maybe back earlier this century NAND cost $10K/GB, now it’s around $0.05/GB.

Jim also mentioned that Chinese NAND fabs should start coming online in 2021 too. They have been spending lots of money trying to get their own NAND manufacturing running. Jim said the reason they want to do this is because the Chinese are spending more $s on chips , than they do for oil.

Computational storage, a bright spot

At the show, computational storage (for more hear our GBoS podcast with Scott Shadley, NGD Systems) was hot again this year. Jim took a shot at defining computational storage and talked about the proliferation of ARM cores in SSDs. Keith mentioned that Moore’s law is making the incremental cost of adding more cores close to zero.

Jim said SAMSUNG already have 6 ARM cores in their SSDs, but most other vendors use 3 cores. I met with NetInt at the show who are focused on computational storage for video transcoding. Keith doesn’t think this would be a good fit, because it takes a lot of computation. But maybe as it’s easily distributable (out to a gaggle of SSDs) and it’s data intensive it might work ok. Jim also mentioned while adding cores may be cheap, increasing memory (DRAM) is not.

According to Jim, hyper-scalars are starting to buy computational storage technology. He’s not sure if they are just trying it out or have some real work running on the technology.

SCM news

We talked about Toshiba’s new XC flash and SSDs. Jim said this is just SLC NAND (expensive $/GB and high endurance) with increased parallelism and reduced latency data paths. Samsung’s Z-NAND is similar. Toshiba claims XL Flash SSDs are another storage class memory (SCM, see our 3DX blog post). Toshiba are pricing XL Flash SSDs at about 10X the $/GB price of 3D TLC NAND, or roughly the same as Optane SSDs.

We next turned to Optane DC PM, which Intel is selling at a loss but as it works only with Cascade Lake CPUs, can help increase CPU adoption. So Intel can absorb Optane DC PM losses by selling more (highly profitable) Cascade Lake systems.

Keith mentioned that SAP HANA now works with Cascade Lake-Optane DC PM. This is driving up demand for the new DC PM and new CPUs. Keith said with the new larger size in memory databases from DC PM, HANA able to do more work, increasing Cascade Lake-Optane DC PM-SAP HANA adoption.

Micron also manufacturers 3DX. Jim said they are in an enviable position as they can . supply the chips (at costs) to Intel, so they know chip volumes and can see what Intel is charging for the technology. So, if at some point, it has runway to become profitable, they can easily enter as a sole secondary source for the technology.

Other NAND news

How high can 3D TLC NAND go? Jim said most 3D NAND sold on the market is 64 layers high but suppliers are already shipping more layers than that. All NAND suppliers, bar one, have said their next generation 3D TLC NAND will be over 100 layers. Some years back one vendor said the technology could go up to 500 layers. This year Samsung, said they see the technology going to 800 layers.

We’ve heard of SLC, MLC, TLC and QLC but at the show there was talk of PLC or five level cell NAND technology. If they can make the technology successful, PLC should reduce manufacturing costs, another 10% ($/GB).

We discussed a lot more that was highlighted at the show, including PCIe fabric/composable infrastructure, zoned (NVMe) name spaces (redux SMR disks) and the ongoing success of the show. We had a brief discussion on when if ever NAND costs will be less than disk ($/GB).

The podcast is a little under ~40 minutes. Jim is an old friend, who is extremely knowledgeable about NAND & DRAM technology as well as semiconductor markets in general. Jim’s always been a kick to talk with. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Jim Handy, General Director, 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

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