Flash memory to be major research focus


Flash memory to be major research focus
Flash memory to be major research focus

Long gone are the days when files had to be backed up on massive chips found in personal computers, or even the times when storage meant holding relatively few items on a hard disk. Now, as evidenced by a recent $1 billion research effort led by IBM, the focus is on flash memory, and how the process can further be improved.

According to Network World, IBM recently announced that in the wake of its acquisition of Texas Memory Systems (TMS) in late 2012, the company will spend the hefty sum to spur more development in flash storage. The company said that by working with Sprint Nextel, it could soon have an all-new lineup of flash drives and other memory products.

"The economics and performance of flash are at a point where the technology can have a revolutionary impact on enterprises, especially for transaction-intensive applications," said Ambuj Goyal, IBM's general manager of systems storage. "The confluence of Big Data, social, mobile and cloud technologies is creating an environment in the enterprise that demands faster, more efficient, access to business insights, and flash can provide that access quickly."

The money will be used to bring on more experts to perform research, which could mean scores of new computer engineering jobs. These workers will be tasked with engineering, testing and integrating new flash drive products to determine how they can be used in a wide range of up-and-coming products. For example, the IBM FlashSystem series is a direct result of the takeover of TMS. The line of products includes 1.75 inch rack-mounted arrays that can operate 20 times as fast as previous models, storing as much as 24 terabytes of information.

According to the news source, improving memory drives will help companies with a number of business functions, such as online transaction processes and analytical processing, virtual desktop infrastructures and cloud computing. These crucial aspects of a business could drive demand higher for hardware developers, as it could lead to major value for any business. The FlashSystem 820 and FlashSystem 720 are great examples of this, as they feature sub-100 microsecond data access times.

"With these low latencies, the storage disk layer can operate at speeds comparable to those of the CPUs, DRAM, networks and buses in the I/O data path," IBM said.

The demand for skills in flash memory development is rising, and more employers are posting it as a requirement for many jobs in computer engineering. The hallmarks of the technology are a computer storage chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. According to LinkedIn data, the most common field that job seekers enter when listing flash memory as a skill is semiconductor manufacturing.

According to Network World, IBM also stated it plans to create new prepackaged hardware systems that feature technology acquired in the TMS purchase.

All told, the company says it will open 12 Centers of Competency all over the world to support the research and development efforts.

"Clients will see first-hand how IBM flash solutions can provide real-time decision support for operational information, and help improve the performance of mission-critical workloads, such as credit card processing, stock exchange transactions, manufacturing and order processing systems," IBM said in a news release.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for computer hardware engineers is expected to rise by 9 percent through 2020 as demand for chips and other computer components will stay strong through the decade. These workers will be responsible for researching, designing, developing and testing various equipment, including semiconductors, circuit boards and routers.

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