Flash memory in PCs (and servers - don't forget the servers) is all set to become mainstream. Many IT industry analysts think NAND Flash is a huge PC advance just waiting to happen. Naturally it requires standards and, glory be, three suppliers have formed a working group to devise and implement them. It has a very dull and forgettable name; the Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface Working Group, and even more forgettable acronym; NVMHCI.
They say it's all about encouraging broad adoption of NAND flash memory technology in the PC. The NVMHCI Working Group is chaired by Intel Corporation with two other contributors: Dell and Microsoft. Er, AMD? Er, Linux O/S suppliers? Don't be silly. There's standards and there's marketing reality.
The NVMHCI founders being Dell, Intel and Microsoft, a catchier acronym comes to mind; DIM. The DIM trio is not wholly about the general broad adoption of flash in PCs. It's about the broad adoption by customers of Dell PCs using Intel chips and Windows Vista with flash being used to shore up the hideously slow boot time of said O/S and its over-use of disk I/O.
As well as ignoring non-Intel and non-Intel PC makers the group has been set up without reference to the main flash memory suppliers: Micron, SanDisk, Samsung and Toshiba.
For this to really work the DIM group has to expand to include Intel and HP on the one hand, Taiwanese notebook manufacturers on another, and the mainstream flash manufacturers as well. Anything else and it is just empty marketing rhetoric.
What will the group achieve?
NVMHCI will provide a standard software programming interface for non-volatile memory subsystems. The interface would be used by operating system drivers to access NAND flash memory storage in applications such as hard drive caching and solid-state drives.
Bob Rinne, Windows Hardware Ecosystem General Manager or WHEGM for short, said: "Several NAND solutions are coming on the scene to take advantage of the ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive features of the Windows Vista operating system. Standardizing on a common controller interface will enable more integrated operating system support of these .... moving forward."
Industry momentum for standardization in NAND storage solutions is building, especially as NAND moves into the PC platform. NVMHCI complements standardization work being done in the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) Working Group.
Intel is active in flash memory production, having recently set up a joint venture with STMicroelectronics and would very much like to be a main player in the flash memory manufacturing sector.
Rick Coulson, an I/O architecture director at Intel, said: "ONFI formed last year to standardize the interface between the Flash controller and the NAND itself, and standardizing the register level interface between the Flash controller and the operating system driver is the logical next step." That's what the NVMHCI is about.
Coulson said: "We've got a performance-enhancing NAND-based product in the market with our new Intel Centrino mobile technology platform called Intel Turbo memory, and this newly formed working group will help make that and a number of other NAND-based solutions more prolific, faster."
Liam Quinn, Dell's director of communications for technology strategy and architecture, joined in the quote-fest: "Non-volatile memory solutions enable better system performance and lower power consumption as well as facilitate additional benefits such as smaller form factors, quieter systems and improved robustness. Needless to say: "Dell looks forward to working with industry partners and extending the benefits NVMHCI will bring to our customers" and selling a boatload of flash memory-equipped notebooks and desktops too.
The new group is actively expanding its membership to include other industry-leading companies and expects to deliver the specification in the second half of 2007. Let's hope that it does everything it can to get all interested parties involved and I do mean all: AMD, Red Hat, Novell Suse, HP, IBM, Micron, SanDisk, Samsung and Toshiba. If not it will be a very dim song the DIM group members are singing.
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