Feature Articles

Where to next for 232L NAND?

By Ken Wong - 12 Oct 2022

Where to next for 232L NAND

 Naga Chandrasekaran, Senior Vice President of Technology Development at Micron Technology. Image source: Micron.

When launched earlier this year, Micron’s 232L NAND was hailed by Scott DeBoer, executive vice president of technology and products at Micron as:

A watershed moment for storage innovation as first proof of the capability to scale 3D NAND to more than 200 layers in production. This groundbreaking technology required extensive innovation, including advanced process capabilities to create high aspect ratio structures, novel materials advancements and leading-edge design enhancements that build on our market-leading 176-layer NAND technology.

Micron’s 232-layer NAND technology provided the high-performance storage necessary to support advanced solutions and real-time services required in data centre and automotive applications, thanks to benefits like longer battery life, better performance in cloud computing, and faster training of AI models.

The compact form factor of 232-layer NAND makes it the smallest high-density NAND available offering more compact storage for mobile devices for faster, responsive, and immersive experiences on mobile devices, consumer electronics and PCs. We can expect to see it in thinner and lighter laptops as well as the latest mobile devices.

Micron’s 232-layer NAND is now in volume production in the company’s Singapore fab and shipping to customers through its Crucial SSD consumer product line.

But where to from here? how much smaller can we go and can current materials and technology keep pace with what we want? To find out this and more, we spoke to Naga Chandrasekaran, Senior Vice President, Technology Development at Micron Technology, to find out all this, and more.

232L Nand Tower. Image source: Micron.

Where do we go from 232L NAND? What are the common deployment areas for it in Singapore? What areas of deployment have surprised you most?

Where do we go? We are also looking at several innovations to continue to scale 3D NAND while meeting cost and performance to enable end products. We’re not commenting on unreleased products, but there are a lot of innovations, optimisations, and efficiencies to drive further benefits in 3D NAND.  We’re still in the early phases of product deployments featuring this technology, but we see great interest across the spectrum of customer types—from consumer to enterprise given the great performance and density/capacity our 232-layer NAND enables.

 

TLC Nand seems to have the most benefits compared to SLC (when prices/costs are compared) pSLC, MLC (cost and reliability) but how much longer can this hold true?

Yes, TLC NAND really does seem to address a sweet spot in many market segments—particularly enterprise accounts where endurance is a real priority.  But we have also seen a growing interest in QLC technology, and we have been well-positioned to address that with a broad and growing portfolio of products.  QLC took some criticism early, but we and the rest of the industry have really advanced technology, and you’ll be seeing more from Micron later this year where we demonstrate a number of uses where QLC offers strong value but at quite competitive performance relative to other technologies.

 

How many layers, dense, or higher can we go? Are we hitting a saturation point soon?

The limits of NAND stacking are yet to be defined.  It surely gets more challenging from a design and fabrication process perspective, but we’re up for the challenge.  Many people have forecasted the end of Moore’s law or otherwise predicted the end of process innovation.  That has always been a bad bet, innovative approaches always seem to lead to new breakthroughs.  Storage is no different.

 

Are we reaching a point where calling NAND consumer and enterprise no longer make sense? Should considerations revolve around HA rather than reliability?

Your question is a valid one—as the requirements do look increasingly alike.  And in many segments, a common product set can address both customer types. But there are some requirements—such as reliability and endurance capabilities that look to stand as more clear boundaries between consumers and enterprises. While consumer uses have indeed gotten more demanding, with more reads and writes and more data, enterprise uses also continue to evolve so there will likely always be some level of differentiation in customer sets.

 

When looking at data centres and technologies like hyper-convergence, and companies like Pure Storage, how do you see the future working out?

Hyperconverged storage has earned a seat at the table. The ability to flexibly procure and deploy storage infrastructure has proven valuable to many customer sets—even highly capable firms.  And we’ve seen the hyper converged solution leaders further adapt to allowing greater interoperability so they can more fully participate in multi-vendor hybrid cloud architecture deployments

 

How much further/longer can existing materials and technology take us?

We’re always evaluating innovations using existing materials and processes—and there are still advancements to be made.  But yes, we are also continually researching and testing novel materials and new process approaches in the quest to drive more benefits—lower power, higher performance, improved reliability, and durability.  We’re not ready to disclose anything at this point.

 

What do you hope to see included in the next iteration of NAND development and manufacture?

We cannot disclose specific innovation vectors or technology specifics, but the areas that we find most compelling to invest our innovation and R&D resources are new approaches that deliver meaningful gains areas that so many customers value the most: reducing power consumption, and increasing density/capacity. Lowering costs, enabling higher performance across more use models and workloads, and offering improved reliability and durability. 

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