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Flash storage: 3D TLC NAND to beat MLC (Part 1)

Posted: 27 Oct 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND? SSD? HDD? memory cells? flash?

The recording and sharing of data is fundamental to the advancement of society and a phenomenon that consumers seem to have embraced with insatiable desire. There is no question that the invention of writing, paper, newsprint, computers, Internet, and now the mobile Internet has resulted in huge leaps in technology. With more connections and users, ultra-fast speeds, and video everywhere, it is forecast that by 2018, 190 exabytes of data will be generated in a single year.1 To give some contextEric Schmidt, when he was CEO of Google, stated that "5 exabytes is the total amount of data created between the dawn of civilisation and 2003."

In more recent times, the dawn of social media has triggered a mind-boggling increase in demand to store and share even more information than was anticipated just a few years ago. Popular sites such as YouTube have essentially changed the general population from content consumers to content generators. In fact, more video is uploaded to YouTube in a single month than what the 3 major networks created in 60 years.2 Correspondingly, the need for IT storage is growing exponentiallyforecasted to grow over 20x in the 10 years from 2011 through 2020.

Storage medium
With the explosion in information and the relentless growth of information demand, identifying an efficient means of storage has become ever more important. Rotating magnetic media has served as the storage medium for the computing industry for decades, but has become a performance bottleneck as the rest of the computing system has gotten faster. There are three main components that dictate the speed of a computing system: the CPU, memory, and storage. While the CPU and memory are solid-state components that have increased in performance at an exponential rate, digital storage has been hampered by the physical speed of rotating disks. By going to solid-state storage, we are finally closing the gap with the CPU and memory.

Figure 1: Closing the Performance Gap via Solid State Storage.

The last 10 years has seen a spectacular rise in the use of flash-based (NAND) storage, which is now on the threshold of going mainstream in both client-computing and data centre applications. This rise in deployment is due to improvements in technology as well as greater cost efficiency. In many cases, the most significant boost you can now give your computer is to upgrade your hard disc to a solid state drive (SSD). PC OEMs have taken notice and are now providing SSD options in many of their notebook offerings. In the data centre, flash is increasing its footprint in servers as well as storage arrays. Many companies have been founded with the purpose of offering all-flash arrays.

SSD advantages
So what are the characteristics of solid state drives that give them such an advantage over spinning, magnetic media? The main reason is the lack of moving parts. Magnetic media, whether in the form of removable discs or fixed platters in a hard disc drive, needs rotation to move the area of storage over a read/write head. There is a limitation in how fast you can physically move media, which are orders of magnitude slower than accessing information using electrical signals in solid state devices. Eliminating the rotating disc has a number of advantages, including:
1. Faster, sustained, and more even performance because the file system does not fragment over time
2. Improved reliability: Mechanical items have an 'order of magnitude' higher failure rate compared to solid state devices
3. Improved durability: Shock rating 4x that of a mechanical system
4. Reduced power consumption: Mechanical parts in HDDs require much higher energy to operate
5. Lower heat, hence elimination of cooling fans
6. Smaller physical footprint

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