The Future of Storage:

This week’s economist has a fascinating article on the future of Disk Storage. If the article is correct enterprise companies who are considering their strategic storage initiatives should look at a 4 -5 year life for their hard disk storage. What all of this means for the future of Companies like EMC and NetApp I can’t foresee, but perhaps they should start concentrating on Storage management instead of striping disks.

A radically different approach to storing data is the Ovonic Unified Memory (OUM), pioneered by Stan Ovshinsky, a highly successful and eclectic serial inventor. OUM is based on so-called chalcogenide materials, the atomic structure of which can be changed reversibly from a well ordered crystalline state to a disordered, amorphous state by applying a burst of electrical current. These two states can then be used to represent zeroes and ones. The technology is faster than flash, has a lifetime of trillions of cycles, and its performance increases as the size of the memory cells is reduced (since less energy is required to change the state of a smaller cell). Mr Ovshinsky’s firm, Ovonyx, has already made prototype chips in conjunction with STMicroelectronics, a big chipmaking firm, and the results are said to be very promising.

OUM is just one of the candidates in the race to create a “universal” memory, the holy grail of the storage industry, which would combine the speed of RAM with the non-volatility of flash and the low cost and high storage-density of hard disks. Ed Doller, chief technology officer at Intel’s flash-memory division, says the company is following the progress of OUM technology closely. Although it is not in a position to threaten flash in the next couple of years, he says, “beyond 2010, it has legs”.

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