Phase-Change Archiving


The future of digital archiving for university and college libraries could lie in phase-change memory technology, according to Chris Wood, CTO for storage and data management at Sun Microsystems.

In his speech at the recent meeting of the Sun Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), a gathering of university librarians and archivists in Baltimore, Chris said that phase-change memory technology is likely to be a successor to aging magnetic storage technology for librarians and archivists.

The older magnetic storage technologies have almost hit their limits physically. Disk density is slowing. Tracks per drive are becoming a challenge. The more tracks are condensed, the more possibility of inaccuracies in the stored data. The capacity of optical storage technology (DVDs and CDs) is growing, but improvements have slowed significantly due to the fact that the consumer electronics business does not see a requirement for vastly increased capacities, Chris says, blunting cost effectiveness and leading users to seek alternatives. Flash memory has made great strides recently, but it also is approaching physical density limits.
PRAM
Image courtesy: Wikipedia
Phase-change technology relies on materials that change characteristics when exposed to heat (rather than electrical charges, as do current storage media). Its development is progressing rapidly, making it a possible alternative to flash memory for archival storage in 3-5 years. Additionally, phase-change memory does not wear out like current flash memory implementations after multiple write cycles.

Comments:

Mr. Wood is inflicting serious damage to Sun's credibility, and that's the last thing the company needs these days. Let's see - a random access SATA hard disk costs about 8c per gigabyte, a DVD+R costs about 2c per gigabyte. A phase change memory device will cost about $150 (YES, one hundred fifty DOLLARS) per gigabyte, if it were to be commercialized in volume. But phase change memory does not exist - it is not available commercially in volume and it will never be!

Posted by MythBuster on December 04, 2008 at 01:26 AM EST #

Dear MythBuster:
To correct your comments, let me explain exactly what I said. I stated that Phase Change memory could potentially challenge flash memory (Not magnetic disks and Optical Disks) in 3-5 years. Why? For Flash, the scaling limit is believed to be about 30nm design rules. It's, pushing sub 50nm today. 45 nm NAND SLC has ~ 500 electrons in the floating gate, MLC has ~ 100 electrons from level to level. It is unclear how much smaller these gates can get. Phase Change has the potential to be both faster and exhibit fewer issues with heavy write cycles. We, of course, will need to see that the actual future brings.

Posted by Chris Wood on December 04, 2008 at 03:31 AM EST #

Dear MythBuster (2):

You may wish to look at the actual slides used at PASIG. They are located here:
http://events-at-sun.com/pasig_fall08/presentations/PASIG_Wood.pdf Of note are slides 33-36 which deal with Flash and Phase Change memory. Note that they do not predict the replacement of magnetic disk nor optical media by PCM. Apologies will be accepted.

Posted by Chris Wood on December 04, 2008 at 05:09 AM EST #

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