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Spansion rolls DRAM replacement for data centres

Posted: 27 Jun 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DRAM  data centre  NOR-flash 

In a move to solve a major power problem in computing, NOR-flash vendor Spansion Inc. has announced out a new class of memory targeting to replace DRAMs in the data centre.

Spansion has also partnered with Virident Systems Inc. in the arena. Start-up Virident has rolled out ''green'' data-centric server technology for datacentres. The technology is not a computer platform, but rather a set of specialised ''firmware and software'' to enable NOR flash in data centre environments, said Alan Niebel, chief executive of Web-Feet Research Inc.

The server technology will make use of Spansion's new memory, dubbed EcoRAM. The new memory device is designed to solve the energy consumption crisis in data centres. When combined with Virident's new GreenGateway technology, EcoRAM can help slash energy consumption by up to 75 per cent in data centre servers, according to Spansion, the world's largest NOR-flash memory supplier.

EcoRAM will come in a module form, which will reportedly fit inside today's servers, according to analysts. It will not entirely replace DRAMs in data centre computers, said Bertrand Cambou, Spansion's president and CEO.

Data centre computers will still require DRAM, Cambou said. EcoRAM and DRAM will reportedly coexist in a system. But EcoRAM will take up a ''piece'' in a data centre system, which was once occupied by DRAM, he said.

When it hits the market later this year, EcoRAM memory, based on 45nm technology, will be used in ''existing slots in existing environments," he added during a press event here.

EcoRAM is said to offer four times the memory capacity of traditional DRAM-only servers for the same energy consumption, according to Spansion. EcoRAM is based on its MirrorBit Eclipse architecture, which combines some elements of NOR and NAND memory. Spansion did not disclose the specifications of EcoRAM, saying that it will provide those details at a later date.

Still, EcoRAM is said to solve a major problem. Today's data centre servers use DRAM in DIMMs configurations to provide access to data. DRAM offers fast access to data, but consumes a lot of power.

DRAM, in fact, is one of the big issues in data centres. Indeed, there is a crisis in the data centre. Between 2000 and 2005, data centre energy consumption doubled, from a total of 71 billion kWh/yr to over 150 billion kWh/year, according to recent reports from Jonathan Koomey, an expert in energy efficiency and a consulting professor at Stanford University.

The United States and Europe are responsible for about two-thirds of the total, according to the reports. If current trends persist, data centre electricity use will continue to grow at a rapid pace, with Asia's growth outpacing the rest of the world, according to the reports.

"With Spansion EcoRAM and Virident's GreenGateway, we have the potential to cut the world's energy consumption in Internet data centre servers by up to 75 per cent and reduce the total cost of ownership for Internet companies," Cambou said.

NOR flash, Cambou said, is positioned to replace some DRAM in the data centre. Traditional NOR flash memory in general is moving ahead of DRAM to smaller process nodes and lower power consumption, but NOR technology has slower write performance and lower density than required.

Spansion's EcoRAM propels NOR into a new space. The technology is said to have the read performance to meet the requirements for fast random access—at one-eighth the energy consumption of DRAM and 10 times the reliability.

EcoRAM takes advantage of the fast read and write speeds of the company's MirrorBit Eclipse architecture. In 2007, Spansion announced MirrorBit Eclipse, which combines its MirrorBit NOR and Ornand technologies on a single die.

Meanwhile, last year, Spansion and Virident announced the two companies would develop and market a new generation of memory solutions designed to reduce power consumption in Internet data centres.

Spansion also announced it had made an equity investment in Virident. At the time, the companies did not provide details of the technology.

On Tuesday, Virident announced a new class of server technology, based on Spanion's memory. This new class of servers uses non-volatile flash memory for applications such as Internet search, social networking, data analytics and content distribution.

"Today's servers were not built with the data-centric needs of the internet in mind,'' said Raj Parekh, co-founder and CEO of Virident. ''As a result, compute-centric servers in Internet data centres can be made far more efficient with faster access to larger main memories.''

The jury is still out on the technology. In an interview, Cambou said he expects to see sales for EcoRAM products this year. "We are talking to end-users and OEMs'' about the technology, he said.

However, Web-Feet's Niebel said he does not expect the technology to take off or become mainstream until 2010. "The real question is based on the applications, does it truly optimise'' and reduce heat in data centres, he said.

Meanwhile, DRAM makers are not standing still. Addressing the data centre power challenge, Micron Technology Inc. recently expanded its energy-efficient DRAM line.

Micron has expanded its Aspen Memory portfolio, by adding 1Gb DDR3 modules operating at 1.35V. It also rolled out 2Gb DDR2 modules operating at 1.5V.

The products are said to provide the server industry with the lowest-voltage DDR2 and DDR3 memories. Standard DDR3 memory technology operates at 1.5V, where DDR2 memory operates at 1.8V.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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