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EcoRAM cuts data center power use

Posted: 01 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:power? EcoRAM? memory? NOR? storage?

Seeking to solve a major power problem in computing, Spansion Inc. has rolled out a new class of memory that is said to have the potential to replace DRAM in the data center.

Spansion collaborated with Virident Systems Inc. in the arena. Startup Virident rolled out "green" data-centric server technology for data centers. "The technology is not a computer platform, but rather a set of specialized firmware and software to enable NOR flash in data center environments," said Alan Niebel, CEO at Web-Feet Research Inc.

Solving the energy crisis
The server technology makes use of Spansion's EcoRAM memory device, which is designed to solve the energy consumption crisis in data centers. When combined with Virident's GreenGateway technology, EcoRAM can slash energy use by up to 75 percent in data center servers, according to Spansion.

EcoRAM will come in module form, which will fit inside today's servers, according to analysts. It will not entirely replace DRAMs in data center computers, said Bertrand Cambou, president and CEO at Spansion. Datacenter computers will still require DRAM. EcoRAM and DRAM will coexist in a system, but EcoRAM will take up a "piece" in a data center system that was once occupied by DRAM, he added.

When it hits the market later this year, EcoRAM memory, based on 65nm technology, will be used in "existing slots in existing environments," Cambou said.

EcoRAM offers four times the memory capacity of traditional DRAM-only servers for the same energy consumption, according to Spansion. EcoRAM is based on the company's MirrorBit Eclipse architecture, which combines some elements of NOR and NAND memory.

Today's data center servers use DRAM in DIMMs configurations to provide access to data. DRAM offers fast access to data, but consumes a lot of power. DRAM is one of the big issues in data centers. Indeed, there is a crisis in the data center. Between 2000 and 2005, data center energy use doubled, from 71 billion kW-hr/year to more than 150 billion kW-hr/year, according to reports from Jonathan Koomey, expert in energy efficiency and a consulting professor at Stanford University.

The United States and Europe are responsible for about two-thirds of the total, according to reports. If current trends persist, data center electricity use will continue to grow at a rapid pace, with Asia's growth outpacing the rest of the world.

"With Spansion EcoRAM and Virident's GreenGateway, we have the potential to cut the world's energy use in Internet data center servers by up to 75 percent and reduce the total cost of ownership for Internet companies," Cambou said.

NOR flash, he added, is positioned to replace some DRAM in the data centers. Traditional NOR flash memory, in general, is moving ahead of DRAM to smaller process nodes and lower power consumption, but NOR technology has slower write performance and lower density than required.

Spansion's EcoRAM propels NOR into a new space. The technology is said to have the read performance to meet the requirements for fast random access at one-eighth the energy consumption of DRAM and 10 times the reliability.

EcoRAM takes advantage of the fast read and write speeds of the MirrorBit Eclipse architecture. In 2007, Spansion announced MirrorBit Eclipse, which combines its MirrorBit NOR and Ornand technologies on a single die.

Earth-friendly servers
Meanwhile, Spansion and Virident announced last year that both companies will develop and market a new generation of memory solutions designed to reduce power use in Internet data centers. Spansion also announced it had made an equity investment in Virident.

This EcoRAM memory device is designed to solve the energy use crisis in data centers.

Virident also announced a new class of server technology based on Spansion's memory. This new class of servers uses non-volatile flash memory for applications such as Internet search, social networking, data analytics and content distribution. "Today's servers were not built with the data-centric needs of the Internet in mind," said Raj Parekh, co-founder and CEO of Virident. "As a result, computer-centric servers in Internet data centers can be made far more efficient with faster access to larger main memories."

The jury is still out on the technology. Cambou said he expects to see sales of EcoRAM products this year. "We are talking to end users and OEMs about the technology," he noted.

However, Niebel said he does not expect the technology to take off until 2010, adding that, "The real question is, based on the application, does it truly optimize" and reduce heat in data centers?

Meanwhile, DRAM makers are not standing still. Addressing the data center power challenge, Micron Technology Inc. expanded its energy-efficient DRAM line. Micron has expanded its Aspen memory portfolio by adding 1Gbyte DDR3 modules operating at 1.35V.

It also rolled out 2Gbyte DDR2 modules operating at 1.5V. These products are said to provide the server industry with the lowest-voltage DDR2 and DDR3 memories. Standard DDR3 memory technology operates at 1.5V, while DDR2 memory operates at 1.8V.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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