IBM Creates Revolutionary Memory

IBM recently announced that it had developed a new way to use phase-change memory, enabling a breakthrough that could prove as the missing link between standard RAM (random-access memory) and flash to a much faster and more reliable type of storage for electronic devices.

Phase-change memory (PCM) is a kind of non-volatile optical storage that works by manipulating the behavior of chalcogenide glass. PCM is used for a variety of storage purposes and is the chief technology responsible for storing data on Blu-Ray disks.

phase change memoryPCM has been seen as a potential data storage solution that will be much needed given the exponential growth of digital data occurring now. It doesn’t lose data when powered off (giving it an edge over DRAM) and the technology is reliable through at least 10 million write cycles. Compared with the 3,000 write cycles that can be expected from an average flash USB stick, this is a significant step up.

As exciting as PCM has been for IT professionals and data storage specialists, it has also presented some major obstacles in terms of developing it to be applicable in a variety of situations. Typically PCM has been struggling to heighten its capacity and lower its cost, the problems stemming from the fact that only one bit can be stored in every cell. That means that it’s not really a useful option in terms of data storage in main memory applications like laptop or mobile phone storage.

The breakthrough? As per IBM’s announcement, researchers have recently discovered a way to store 3 bits per cell through manipulating how crystals react to high temperatures, which become necessary when attempting to tap into multiple states for PCM cells. The jump from one to three bits per cell is significant because, as Haris Pozidis IBM’s manager of non-volatile memory research wrote in his statement, “at this density, the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash.”

According to IBM, that opens up applications for PCM that range from replacing RAM in modern desktop computers to using a hybrid form of PCM and flash memory to boost processing speeds in mobile devices.

psm2“For example, a mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds,” IBM announced in its press release. “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.”

IBM also foresees cloud-based artificial intelligence applications for PCM and states that PCM could significantly help to foster the development of the field in general:

“Machine learning algorithms using large datasets will also see a speed boost by reducing the latency overhead when reading the data between iterations,” continued IBM.

PCM’s speed, durability and reduced price stand as indication that it may be the biggest industry-changer to hit data centers in a long time. And as the internet expands at an exponential rate, that boost in efficiency, reliability and capability is going to be much needed.

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