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Sun's Cornwell: NAND is moving to litho death march

Posted: 14 Aug 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND flash? SSD? lithography?

A Sun Microsystems Inc. technologist scolded the NAND flash industry, saying vendors are ignoring the needs of the enterprise and moving towards the "lithography death march."

Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun, was also critical of solid-state drives (SSDs) for servers, saying the emerging technology is still too expensive. He urged the industry to adopt or emulate Sun's NAND flash module strategy for high-end servers.

During a frank and sobering keynote address at the Flash Memory Summit here, he said NAND vendors are going down the wrong path by racing each other in process technologyat the expense of customer needs. Few sub-50nm parts are suitable for the high-end computing or enterprise market, due to reliability and endurance issues, he said. So, OEMs like Sun are looking to devise flash-based systems using trailing-edge but more reliable NAND, but the trouble is that those type of parts are in short supply, he said.

"Most NAND guys are not addressing the needs for the enterprise market," he told EE Times after a keynote.

For years, NAND flash vendors have sold commodity parts for MP3 players, cellphones, flash cards, USB drives and other products. The latest application is the SSD, which is aimed for the consumer and enterprise markets.

A slew of vendors are pushing SSDs for both markets. SSDs compliment HHDs, but some believe that SSDs will displace magnetic media. The requirements for SSDs for the consumer and enterprise are different. The enterprise market requires reliable, high-endurance SSDs for mission-critical applications. The consumer market is less stringent, where SSDs go into netbooks, and, to some degree, notebooks.

SSD vendors are doing well in the consumer space but the high-end computer market is a different story, he said. "The ASPs are too high. SSDs cost more than the systems they go into."

For example, in magnetic media, a gigabyte sells for 25 cents. In comparison, 16Gbyte of flash sells for $30, he said. Besides that, NAND will have performance issues, as they higher "latencies than hard drives for the next two generations," Cornwell added.

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