TORONTO – Micron Technology Inc. CEO Mark Durcan announced his pending retirement Thursday (Feb. 2). No timeframe has been set for Durcan's retirement, but he will continue to head the company as CEO for the time being.
Micron (Boise, Idaho) said its board of directors has formed a special committee to oversee the succession process and has initiated a search, with the assistance of an executive search firm, to identify and vet candidates. Durcan has pledged to help with the search process and the transition.
Durcan said it was “bitter sweet" for him to leave the company given its success over the past year. “We have a great team in place," Durcan said during the company's annual analyst outreach event. "We're executing against all of our priorities. We have all of the pieces in place."
Durcan has been with Micron for 30 years and was appointed CEO in 2012, after chairman and CEO Steve Appleton was killed in a plane crash. He served as chief technology officer before becoming chief operating officer in 2007.
Not quite a year ago, Micron Technology talked about how it was now a storage company, announcing its Micron Storage Solutions Center. But the theme of the analyst event was rather different, as Durcan kicked it off by talking about what he called “the new data economy."
He said Micron's relevance to this new data economy can be seen in advancements made in the automotive sector: the promise of autonomous vehicles and that many people are already driving cars with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and collision avoidance systems. “These types of applications drive real value and save lives and make a huge difference in people's lives," he said.
Micron's NAND growth has balanced the recent DRAM volatility
Durcan said the beginnings of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence are also relevant. “Watson has downloaded all medical literature in history and now downloading real-time patient data from monitoring systems. Real, life-saving applications are starting to happen in AI." He alluded to data being generated by scientific research, as such as the massive amounts generated by the Large Hadron Collider.
All of these elements of the new data economy are contributing the to key three trends affecting Micron's business, said Durcan: data proliferation, real-time analytics, and economic advantage. Data proliferation is no longer just about growth, it's also about location of the data, from computers and smartphones and computers to data centers and the edge of the network. By 2020, there will be 5,000GB of data per person, he said, and half of all data in 2017 is in emerging markets.
Talking about the growth of data from the Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing new, but Durcan said there is more pressure to analyze that data. “To be useful, this data has to be structured, and it has to be used in applications relatively quickly to get the value out of it," he said. That relates to economic advantage, and he noted that really valuable companies today such as Google are repositories of data.
Durcan sees Micron's technology as critical to all of these trends. When he started with the company three decades ago, there were three main things to consider: the processor, the memory and the storage. But Micron has seen a great deal of growth and diversification. “It's now become about the end applications and working with customers," he said. “It's a complete sea change in the way our products are used."
The new data economy markets will drive future demand, said Durcan, but most of the demand will be in applications that don't exist yet. In the present, DRAM has driven most of the volatility. “It's now becoming less of an issue as end markets are diversifying," he said. “A lot of the growth has been driven by NAND."
The longer term is harder to predict. “We do know there are these huge drivers and that demand is elastic," he said. “There is pent up demand yet to come."
Micron outlined a number of operating priorities in 2016, and Durcan said the company has delivered on those. The new set of priorities for 2017 are similar. He said there is work being done on another emerging memory aside from 3D Xpoint, but like that much talked about technology, which at one point during the session was described as the only commercially ready emerging memory, he said couldn't say much more.
Micron's bit growth has risen while cost-per-bit has gone done.
Micron's Vice President of Research and Development, Scott DeBoer, also alluded to a new memory with near DRAM capabilities. As for DRAM itself, he touted the company's progress toward having meaningful 1Xnm output by the end of fiscal 2017, describing it as critical to high-density mobile and compute applications. Meanwhile, 1Yn is more near term, he said, and about where 1Xnm was this time last year; 1Znm is getting an earlier start thanks to Micron's development model that is leading to shorter time between nodes.
As for 3D NAND, said DeBoer, “we're seeing progressively better results." This includes getting better performance on its TLC 3D NAND that on its MLC planar NAND, he said. “Our 3D NAND technology has amazing balance of cost improvement and performance improvement." He highlighted the company's CMOS-under-the-array technology as the reason that Micron 32-tier 3D NAND is just as dense as other company's 48-tier, and that the company is on a good path to output 64-tier 3D NAND in fiscal 2017. QLC development is in alignment with market requirements.
The event included a parade of business unit presentations from across the company. Among the interesting tidbits:
- Game consoles and e-sports driving graphics, including Micron's GDDR5x technology developed with Nvidia with application tending to require bandwidth over density;
- Another aspect of the automotive growth other than ADAS is connectivity, as it's starting to become a purchase criteria for vehicles
- Augmented and virtual reality is becoming a key driver in smartphone technology, with both bandwidth and density required for an immersive experience
- Packaging technology is a critical enabler across business units
Thomas Coughlin, founder of Coughlin Associates, attended the event and said none of what was presented by Micron execs came to him as much of a surprise, although he did acknowledge there has been a great deal of growth. “NAND growth is modulating DRAM volatility, so they are balancing things," Coughlin said.
Coughlin said much of what was talked about in presentations was the chatter among attendees, including the hint that there is something in development other than 3D Xpoint, but he did not have insight into what it might be.
While Micron was bullish on its 32-layer 3D NAND performance and its progress on 64-layer, he said everyone is doing 64-layer, and he believes we will see 96-layer 3D NAND from Samsung by the summer.
Overall, Micron seems to have recovered from the rockier times of this time last year, he said, thanks to a combination of their work and the economy in the past six months.
Coughlin agreed there about importance of packaging technology, noting there is a great deal of growth in demand for Chinese mobile handset. “There's growing market for 3D NAND, DRAM, firmware, and a controller all in one package," he said.
—Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.