Researchers: 'Bleak Future' Awaits Flash-based Solid State Drives

Paul Lilly

The average selling price of mechanical hard drives has risen ever since severe floods in Thailand wreaked havoc on HDD manufacturing plants, and on the opposite end of the storage spectrum, the cost of solid state drives (SSDs) has been steadily decreasing as the technology matures. With that being the case, why in the world would researchers from the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) declare the future of NAND flash memory and SSDs as being bleak?

It's a good question, and one that's answered by Steven Swanson (director of UCSD's Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory), Laura Grupp (a graduate student at UCSD), and John Davis (Researcher in Microsoft Research's Silicon Valley lab) in a paper (PDF) titled "The Bleak Future of NAND Flash Memory."

"In recent years, flash-based SSDs have grown enormously both in capacity and popularity," the paper begins. "In high-performance enterprise storage applications, accelerating adoption of SSDs is predicated on the ability of manufacturers to deliver performance that far exceeds disks, while closing the gap in cost per gigabyte. However, while flash density continues to improve, othe metrics such as reliability, endurance, and performance are all declining."

The researchers laid out data collected from 45 flash chips from 6 manufacturers, which they analyzed to predict the performance and cost characteristics of future SSDs. What they found is that the rapid increase in density -- which is necessary to continue improving upon storage space and costs -- has a negative impact for flash memory when it comes to performance, program/erase endurance, and energy efficiency.

So, when is the end of the world for SSDs set to take place?

"It's not going to be viable to go past 6.5nm... 2024 is the end," Grupp said at the 10th Usenix Conference on File and Storage Technologies, according to ComputerWorld .

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