Flash memory makers have taken over cell phones and MP3 players and want to start moving into notebooks. So what's next on the colonization roadmap?
Servers, says Frankie Roohparvar, vice president of NAND development at Micron Technologies. Server makers are looking at ways of replacing drives in servers.
"That is the area where they (the hard drive industry) are weakest next," he said over a lunch meeting.
It sounds weird initially. Servers typically come with large drives, and flash memory costs around 10 times as much as space on drives, when you look at it from a cost per bit point of view.
Performance, however, is a key consideration in many segments of the server market. In some servers, data is actually only stored on the perimeter of the hard drive for more rapid access, he asserted. Thus, much of the storage space goes fallow, which in turn shrinks the cost delta between hard drives and flash.
Plus, energy consumption goes down. That's a favorite on the IT buyer checklist.
"Most of the major guys in servers are looking at this," he said.
Last month, IBM said it would begin to offer a solid state drive (from SanDisk) as an option on its blade servers.
TVs will be another growing market, said Roohparvar. Many TV makers are inserting flash into upcoming digital TVs. The memory will cache incoming TV programs so that viewers at home can rewind. You can do it now with some TVs and TiVo boxes, but now it will be standard in more TVs.
Some TVs are already out on the market, but Roohparvar said many have been designed but haven't been announced yet. Thus, I'd say look for these at CES, as well as another round of "TiVo is toast" stories.
The hard drive-flash fight will be a great one to watch. Both industries are fairly competitive. (Micron, for one, is run by an extreme sports junkie that had his executive team race the Baja 500.) Losing millions a quarter just to stay in the game is pretty much par for the course for some manufacturers and manufacturing capacity for both industries is pretty high. Hence you can expect storage capacities to increase and prices to continue to plummet. (Flash has dropped 60 percent a year for the last two years and drives have been on a similar trajectory.) For consumers, that's good.