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Memory and Storage Needs Soar While Miniaturization Lowers Prices, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The unstoppable trend of miniaturization is fueling tremendous product innovation.  This trend generally leads to better, faster products at lower prices.  It also leads to devices that use less energy.  Technology consumers, whether for business or personal use, have an ever-increasing need of memory and storage.  Think, for example, of the exponentially growing number of pixels contained in a photo made by a digital camera.  On the corporate end, paperwork, customer files, vital intellectual property and more have become digitized and must be stored for current or archival access.

The solution to the data storage question is miniaturization.  Not too many years ago, relatively small amounts of digital data required entire rooms for storage on magnetic tape costing thousands of dollars.  Meanwhile, mobility is a major factor.  Flash memory, a silent, ultrafast storage technology with no moving parts, has become a standard medium.

Miniaturization coupled with the growing need for storage will mean endless opportunities for new products and new profits.  By late 2007, Toshiba Corp. proved the ability to manufacture hard drives that store up to 228 gigabytes of data per square inch.  By 2009, demonstrations of up to 800 gigabytes per square inch had been made.  This kind of density is possible due to PMR or perpendicular magnetic recording.  PMR records data in an up and down pattern rather than the traditional horizontal method.  These micro-drives are perfect for today’s mobile devices.  In 2012, Seagate utilized a technology called heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) that achieves 1-terabit per square inch density.  Analysts predict that HAMR will result in up to 10-terabit per square inch density by 2025.

On a larger scale, storage needs are growing constantly, both for consumers who want to store an ever-growing stash of digitized photos, videos and music on their mobile devices and PCs, and for corporate and government systems, where the amount of data on hand in enterprise systems is growing at a sizzling rate.  Large organizations find they have much greater needs than earlier estimated for digital storage.  Included in stored data are such items as customer records, long-term e-mail archives, financial records and in-depth human resources records.  This trend has created tremendous opportunities for cloud storage businesses such as OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and Google Drive.  (Unfortunately, this rapid digitization and storage of the world's most vital data also leads to vast security problems and hacking of proprietary data.) 

Meanwhile, 2009 saw the emergence of phase change memory, a memory chip technology that stores data by causing material to alter from a crystalline phase to a disordered phase.  Tiny, precisely timed heat pulses are beamed at a substance similar to glass.  As the substance cools, it forms a highly conductive crystalline latticework that can be read by measuring when the cell conducts electricity and when it doesn’t.  It has the potential to be faster than flash memory while consuming less power.  Numonyx and Samsung began shipping phase change chips as of 2009.  By 2011, Samsung announced the development of an 8 GB phase change memory chip with an interface speed of 40 Mbps, or eight times the capacity of previous phase change chips.  Micron produced the first phase-change memory chip for commercial use in mobile devices in 2012.  In May 2014, IBM demonstrated a memory technology called the Theseus Project conducted in partnership with the University of Patras in Greece.  It combines phase change memory, conventional NAND and DRAM on a single controller.  The hybrid has the potential to be 275 times faster than solid state drives (SSDs).

Flash (solid state) memory chips are now being used to store data for the long term, in addition to holding data temporarily while it is being entered or edited.  Pure Storage, a California-based computer firm, was a pioneer in addressing the cost associated with using flash chips for large-scale storage.  Pure’s Flash Array storage systems have prices that are competitive with hard drive storage, but with higher speed and efficiency.  Pure combines lower-cost flash memory chips and its proprietary software to keep prices down.  While solid-state storage is already in use by online services to decrease response times, as well as in laptop PCs, Pure’s lower prices make the technology workable on an enterprise scale.

Advances in nanotechnology will enable ever-increasing levels of storage on smaller and smaller devices.  Another storage innovation is the holographic optical disk.  This kind of disk not only stores data on its surface, but also in volume throughout the depth and breadth of the disk.

The next wave in memory and storage may well abandon the use of transistors and rely instead on ions (which are charged particles manipulated by the addition or subtraction of electrons on the nuclear level).  California-based startup Unity Semiconductor Corporation (acquired by Rambus, Inc. in early 2012) built prototypes using a technology, trademarked CMOx, which promises to store four times the amount of data as current flash memory chips of the same size and record data between five and ten times faster.  Unity, which had a technology development partnership with chip firm Micron Technology and with hardware maker Applied Materials and software firm Silvaco, did not expect to commercialize the new technology until 2015 at the earliest. 

 

A Brief History of PC Milestones

 

·    1971: Intel introduces the first microprocessor, the 4004.

·    1975: The Altair 8800 microcomputer is introduced by MITS.

·    1976: Popular hardware enters the market, but software is lacking. Apple introduces the Apple II personal computer. Commodore introduces the PET. Radio Shack enters the market with the TRS-80.

·    1981: IBM finally enters the market with the IBM PC, based on a Microsoft operating system called DOS.

·    1982: Clones compatible with the IBM PC enter the market. Since IBM did not require exclusive access to MS DOS, clones are able to compete effectively. The concept of portable PCs is introduced.

·    1984: A cult is born when Apple introduces the Macintosh. Dell Computer is launched by a college student in Austin, Texas.

·    1990: Microsoft introduces Windows 3.0.

·    1993: Mosaic is born, the first graphics-based web browser. The Internet is ready to surge.  Intel’s Pentium processor is launched, with 3.1 million transistors.

·    1994: Online directory giant Yahoo! is launched by two Stanford University students. Version 1.0 of open software Linux is released.

·    1995: Amazon.com is launched. The MP3 audio format is developed. Netscape, maker of the first widely used Internet browser, goes public.

·    1996: eBay is launched. The Palm Pilot PDA is introduced. Microsoft introduces the Internet Explorer browser.

·    1999: Napster is created for music sharing, but copyrights challenge the concept. Soon it has 60 million users and accounts for 4% of all traffic on the Internet.

·    2003: 64-bit chips are put on the market.  Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies advance and proliferate.

·    2004: Open systems, such as Linux and Mozilla, move ahead broadly, gaining widespread acceptance over a wide variety of platforms.

·    2005: Storage, security and portability top the needs of technology buyers and users.  Broadband users at home and at the office now create a vast mass market.  Intel’s Pentium D processor uses 291 million transistors to hit 3.2 GHz.

·    2007: Apple launches the iPhone, making the smartphone the personal computing device of choice for many users.  Seagate Technologies and Hitachi announce the first one terabyte hard drives for PCs (1,024 GB).  Flash drives begin to replace hard drives in notebook computers.

·    2010: Apple launches the iPad tablet computer.

·    2011: The cloud gains wide acceptance as an efficient place for data storage and collaboration.

·    2012: The era of The Internet of Things (IoT) begins as machine-to-machine communication gains wide acceptance.

·    2015:  China is an undeniable giant in the technology industry, as a contract electronics manufacturer; as the home of rapidly growing firms such as Alibaba (ecommerce) and Xoami (smartphones); and as a market for advanced products such as the iPhone 6.

Source: Plunkett Research, Ltd.

 

 


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