IBM Touts Phase-Change Memory Breakthrough

Big Blue's scientists achieve a major new milestone in creating computer memory that straddles the line between DRAM and flash.

IBM today announced a major new development in its quest to create computer memory that can stand up to the data processing and storage requirements of the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) era.

The IoT will not only having a major effect on how enterprises plan, manage and secure their data centers, it also will influence their server buying decisions. IBM's new phase-change memory (PCM) technology may factor into those decisions.

The technology giant announced today that it had managed to reliably store three bits of data per cell using PCM, a big jump from the single bit per cell milestone that IBM and others achieved previously. The company's scientists are presenting their work, which involved a 64k-cell array, high temperatures and a million endurance cycles, during today's IEEE International Memory Workshop in Paris.

Industry watchers have their eye on PCM because of its potentially disruptive effect on the computer memory and storage markets.

PCM combines DRAM-like read/write with the non-volatility, endurance, density and economics of flash storage. According to IBM, it can sustain 10 million write cycles compared to 3 million for typical USB flash drives.

If and when IBM commercializes the technology, it could user in high-performance systems that crunch IoT data and power complex business applications at unprecedented speeds.

"In the enterprise space, entire databases could be stored in PCM for blazing fast query processing for time-critical online applications, such as financial transactions," said IBM in a media advisory. PCM could also lead to smartphones that store their operating systems in PCM, enabling them to boot in seconds.

IBM is already experimented with enterprise computing systems that employ PCM.

At last month's OpenPOWER Summit, IBM demonstrated POWER8-based servers connected to PCM memory using the Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) protocol. The company was able to demonstrate 128-byte read/write operations between PCM and IBM's POWER processors at latencies hovering around 4 microseconds.

"Phase change memory is the first instantiation of a universal memory with properties of both DRAM and flash, thus answering one of the grand challenges of our industry," according to a prepared statement from Dr. Haris Pozidis, head of non-volatile memory research at IBM Research in Zurich. "Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash."

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.




Tags: IBM, Memory, phase change memory PCM


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