Chipmaker Micron has created a brand new type of memory technology that it says can offer the same memory speed and persistent storage found in chips located next to a computer’s processor. In short, the company has created something entirely new for the computing world that is designed to handle the big data jobs that companies are trying to throw at today’s specialized hardware and cloud offerings.
Before we go any further you need to know that computers put information in two places. The first is next to the processor: This nearby memory is smaller, more expensive and usually only stores information as long as the computer is on—it’s what the industry calls volatile memory. Most computers and servers use something called Dynamic Random Access Memory or DRAM for this type of memory.
But DRAM is pricey, and when you shut your machine off everything is wiped clean, so most data is stored someplace else. In modern computers and data centers, where the information needs to be accessed quickly, data is stored on a solid state drive made from flash memory chips.
The challenge with storing data as opposed to keeping it in memory is that it takes longer to get to it. Meanwhile, the benefits are that the data doesn’t disappear if the power fails and you can store a lot of it relatively cheaply.
In our world of trying to make everything bigger and faster, the challenge for companies ranging from SAP to Google (GOOGL) has been how to get more information into the DRAM, because if you want real-time data processing (for example, the Internet of things or for business transactions) you want jobs performed right next to the computer processor. But the more information you shove into that limited space, the more prone that memory is to corruption or shutting down and losing everything, which wastes more time.
Micron’s (MU) latest innovation is to take its existing DRAM chips and its NAND flash chips, add a little extra circuitry to them and insert them into a module alongside a third logic chip that tells the data where to go. The result is a memory chip called NVDIMM (the NV stands for non-volatile) that sits next to the computer processor, can handle 8 GB of information and doesn’t lose that data when the power is turned off. The new product fits into existing slots on a DRAM module server, and customers can buy it today.
Brian Shirley, VP of memory and technology solutions at Micron, anticipates a 16 GB version in the first half of 2016. He says that the logic chip is manufactured by an outside foundry.
Micron, which has been a rumored takeover target by China’s Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd., has been on a roll lately with new technology. This summer Micron and Intel (INTC) teamed up to launch a new flash memory technology called 3D Xpoint that could be used in solid state drives.
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