LONDON – IBM is looking forward to improving its server computers within a few years through the use of phase-change memory (PCM), according to two separate reports that reference different senior executives with the company. This is despite review papers and discussion within a patent application that seems to acknowledge problems with the scaling of PCM.
PCM is based on changing the material phase and the electrical resistance of a chalcogenide layer in each memory cell. It is an attractive technology because of its non-volatility, density and bit-alterability and has been touted as a possible replacement for both flash memory and DRAM. But the technology has proved difficult to commercialize and even as devices have made it to market using 90-nm process technology, questions have been asked about the ability to scale the technology beyond the levels already reached by flash memory.
It is not clear whether IBM it looking to use PCM devices produced by third parties such as Micron, which recently bought PCM pioneer Numonyx, or has proprietary PCM technology of its own that it could license out or manufacture internally.
Nonetheless Jai Menon, chief technology officer of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, believes that phase-change memory could replace existing DRAM and revolutionize the way servers are built, according to an article published last month by InfoWorld.
With PCM "you can design your file systems differently, you can design your databases differently, and it has the potential to reduce by three orders of magnitude the power consumed and the amount of space consumed by servers," the report quoted Menon as saying. It adds that he said that IBM is continuing to develop PCM and will incorporate it in servers, but did not reveal a date by when this would happen.
In an article published by the Technologizer website at about the same time in October Alan Ganek, chief technology officer and vice president of strategy and technology in the IBM Software Group and Rod Adkins, senior vice president within IBM's systems and technology group are also quoted being enthusiastic about PCM.