An IBM data center in North Carolina
How is IBM funneling its vast resources into research around future products and services? At a press and analyst day last week in New York City, the company talked up projects around replacing today’s flash-based SSDs (solid state drives) with new PCM (phase change memory) technology and dropping DVRs (digital video recorders) in favor of video storage clouds.
IBM is about to start field tests with cable TV companies around new cloud-based video storage services for consumers, said Steve Canepa, general manager for IBM’s Global Media & Entertainment Industry Division.
Meanwhile, for businesses, Big Blue is eyeing the release in another four years of new storage servers based on PCM, according to other speakers at the press event on Thursday in midtown Manhattan.
PCM gadgets from consumer electronics makers will probably start showing up a year or two from now, predicted Alan Ganek, CTO and VP of Strategy and Technology in the IBM Software Group. IBM’s upcoming PCM storage servers will be “revolutionary,” contended Rod Adkins, senior VP of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group.
Canepa says that video storage clouds will benefit users and cable providers alike by eliminating the need for providers to dispatch trucks to people’s houses to fix or replace broken DVR set top boxes. Cable networks will be able to store people’s recorded TV shows, along with personal videos and copies of movies purchased on DVD.
“Send in your home video, and serve it up to the network,” he elaborated.
Yet while some companies might like to move consumers’ videos into the cloud, cable and satellite TV providers have also been prepping new features, such as remote scheduling, and “whole home DVR” to improve existing DVR technology.
Ganek told me IBM is now working with chip makers on adapting PCM for use in servers, as a substitute for the contemporary flash storage techniques now supporting SSDs.
Windows 7 contains new “optimizations” for running well on flash-based SSDs, and prices on SSDs have been falling.
Yet flash SSD faces capacity and scaleability limits, and its performance can be “erratic,” Ganek said.
Combining characteristics of RAM with NOR and NAND flash memory, PCM is much more scaleable and reliable, for dependable use across large systems like storage servers, according to the IBM CTO. Like NOR and NAND flash, PCM is nonvolatile. Therefore, it doesn’t need a constant power supply in order to hold on to data.
In addition, others have noted that unlike those two flash technologies, PCM doesn’t rely on floating gate memory structures, which store electrons. Floating gate memory structures can be hard to scale because if the memory cell is made to shrink, the number of electrons also shrinks.
Similarly to NOR and NAND, PCM also boasts fast random access times. Moreover, write performance is considered by some to be much higher for PCM than for NOR and NAND flash.
Part of the reason for the faster write speeds is that PCM is “bit alterable,” meaning that it doesn’t entail a time-consuming separate erase step for changing stored information from one to zero — or from zero to one, for that matter.