SANTA CLARA, Calif. — IBM will use the technology of startup Diablo Technologies to pack NAND flash in server dual in-line memory sockets next year. It also aims to design its own controller chip putting flash in DIMM slots.
In addition, Big Blue has doubled the size of the flash controller engineering group it acquired with Texas Memory Systems last year. Before the end of the year, the team will deliver an enhanced controller for its storage arrays that are optimized for use with Toshiba's NAND chips. It plans a future version of the controller that can be used with any vendor's flash chips.
Michael Kuhn, vice president of IBM Flash Systems, Big Blue's new business unit formed around Texas Memory, shared the details of his road map in an interview with EE Times at the Flash Memory Summit.
IBM's customers are "wrestling with multiple deployment models for flash," said Kuhn.
Uses include direct-attached, solid-state drives that plug into serial ATA and serial-attached SCSI interfaces for hard drives, PCI Express slots based on partnerships with Fusion-IO and LSI, and now DIMMs, announced by Diablo recently.
"I think you will see [flash in DIMM slots] hit the market in a bigger way in 2014," Kuhn said. "We'll be doing some work on that using Diablo [controllers] and own controller next year."
Knut Grimsrud, a solid-state drive specialist at Intel, downplayed the significance of the DIMM slot for flash. The interface does not provide significantly better speed and latency characteristics than PCI Express, given the bottlenecks of flash chip access times, he said. In addition, unless the flash DIMMS support random access they may find limited applications, he added.
IBM's Texas Memory products take a different approach, focused on higher capacity and broader systems management features. They plug as much as 20 TBytes of flash into a 1U box that sits on a Fibre Channel or Infiniband storage network. IBM will deliver appliances that plug into Fibre Channel over Ethernet networks in the future, Kuhn said.
A new class of three-level-cell flash chips are opening up some new options for flash subsystems. Kuhn predicted phase change memories that IBM Research and others are developing could hit the market in 2016.
Meanwhile, IBM faces competition in flash arrays from both large established vendors such as EMC and a gaggle of startups led by Violin Memory. NetApp is expected to debut its own flash array next year.