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Virident Makes Flash Memory Go Green

The last time I sat down with Raj Parekh was eight years ago. He was involved with Comstellar Technologies, a telecom incubator that he started with Raj Singh (Fiberlane, that turned into Siara Systems, Cerent & Cyras –- all of which sold for many billions of dollars) and former CEO of Telcordia, Sanjiv Ahuja (who until recently was CEO of Orange).

It was the heyday of telecom bubble and, getting caught up in the euphoria, it was described as a MetaCompany that wanted to cash in on the telecom boom. We all know how that boom ended. Parekh, Singh and Ahuja went their separate ways and eventually we lost touch. So when Parekh emailed I was intrigued and wanted to know what he was up to now.

Parekh, who made his bones designing servers for old-school big iron companies — CTO at Silicon Graphics and then at Sun Microsystems — co-founded Virident along with Vijay Karamcheti (CTO) and Ken Okin (VP of Engineering). The company may not be quite as sexy as, say, yet another social network, but it has technology that could help solve some of the problems facing the web infrastructure. It has raised around $13 million from Arteman Ventures and chip maker Spansion.

The almost three-year-old Milpitas, Calif.-based startup has come up with a technology that, using some custom silicon and software, allows server makers to embed plain vanilla a new kind of Mirrorbit Flash memory into their machines instead of DRAM memory chips. Since flash memory chips sip power in comparison to the dynamic memory, the servers can suddenly see a sharp reduction in power consumption.

Flash-as-DRAM has been a dream of chipheads and holds potential, experts say. That explains why Spansion, a Flash memory maker, has signed up has partnered with the upstart for using the new technology. To be clear, both Virident and Spansion technologies need to work together in tandem to make the power saving happen.

Spansion has spent $1.2 billion to upgrade its 300mm fab in Japan to produce the Eclipse MirrorBit memory used in its proprietary Flash memory called EcoRAM. This year EcoRAM will begin production using the 65 nanometer technologies and move down the process node each year. Spansion hopes to use 25 nanometers process to make such chips in 2011.

Writing for our sister blog Earth2Tech, Stacey points out that using Virident’s technology, Spansion is going all out in pushing EcoRAM. One of the benefits of Flash is that it doesn’t need to constantly refresh the data on the chip as DRAM does, and as a result it consumes less power — about a tenth of the power when handling a gigabyte of data.

In addition, server makers can add more EcoRAM — up to 128 gigabytes vs. 32 gigabytes for straight DRAM — which means companies need to buy fewer servers and can instead use those with more memory more efficiently. Virident’s Parekh said that using its GreenGateway technology server makers will be able to add up to 512 GB of Flash to the servers, which would lead cut power 80 percent, without requiring any changes to sockets, motherboards or industry-standard servers.

Stacey points out that “this is a big opportunity for Spansion, because if EcoRAM succeeds it gives the memory company a product whose margins are higher than that of traditional Flash, which is a commodity offering. EcoRAM isn’t going to replace DRAM in every server, but if it finds a big enough market, lowering power consumption could raise Spansion’s bottom line.”

Additional reporting by Stacey Higginbotham

4 Responses to “Virident Makes Flash Memory Go Green”

  1. vicaya

    It’s NOR, as the Virident folks told me. I wonder what’s the percentage of power is being used by RAM in a typical computer system though. I imagine it to be much smaller than CPU and hard drives. Remember their special memory controller uses additional power as well.

    They’re in a weird cost/benefit space.

  2. Actually, my impression is that Virident’s technology can’t use “vanilla Flash” because vanilla flash (especially NAND) can’t do a good enough DRAM impression – it requires Spansion’s MirrorBit technology.

    Dameon – note that there are many different kinds of flash with different characteristics (SLC NOR, MLC NOR, SLC NAND, MLC NAND, etc). NOR memory has much better endurance than NAND (typically > 100K cycles) and much smaller block size. There are various solutions to the flash write endurance (and speed) problem – I’d like see what Virident’s solution is.