In items like camera memory cards, flash memory is a ho-hum commodity. But when it comes to building flash directly into a computer, the disruption is probably just beginning.
That's why I find Fusion-io an intriguing company.
Fusion-io builds flash memory onto PCI Express cards that plug into server expansion slots, letting customers move beyond hard drives' physical enclosures and SATA interface. That means data can be written and read faster overall, in part because SATA has worse overhead--in other words, bandwidth that must be used to run the communication protocol rather than for the actual data being read or written.
The Salt Lake City start-up isn't the only PCIe storage maker in the market--Texas Memory Solutions' RamSan-10 and the RamSan-20 and OCZ Technology's Z-Drive products are competitors. But Fusion-io has clout: in addition to sales partnerships with IBM, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard, and more than 50 patent applications filed, it's got an investment from flash memory maker Samsung.
Flash crashes the party For all the change in the computer industry, it's actually pretty rare that a hardware difference comes along that actually is more than an evolutionary tweak to the existing setup.
Flash memory, which has displaced the hard drive in corners of the market such as iPods and high-end laptops and has the potential to do so elsewhere, is one of those changes. It combines the world of conventional computer memory--dynamic random access memory, or DRAM--with the world of hard drives.
DRAM needs a constant supply of electrical power to remember its data, but it can read and write data quickly; hard drives store data even when the power is switched off, and can store much larger amounts of data, but they're relatively slow. Intermediate between the two is flash memory, in terms of data transfer speeds and cost per gigabyte, and like a hard drive it can store data when the computer is switched off.
The first large-scale arrival of flash memory in computers took the form of solid-state drives, or SSDs. They packed flash memory into the type of enclosure that in the past housed a hard drive, and they communicated with the rest of the computer system with the standard hard drive interface, called SATA. Advatages of SSDs include faster data transfer, better ruggedness because of the absence of moving parts, and lower power consumption because the physical platters of hard drives don't need to be rotated all the time. … Read more