IBM research team just announced a breakthrough in data storage, of replacing Flash and RAM more efficiently, using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM). For the last 15 years they have been using this crystal-based technology in optical disks and other techs, but in a limited manner because of the cost and storage density. However, now they’ve discovered the way to reliably store 3 bits of data per cell, thus increase the capacity of the original technology.
To store PCM data on a rewritable Blu-ray disk, first, you have to apply high current to amorphous or non-crystalline glass to convert them into a more conductive crystalline structure. To read the data back, the low voltage needs to be applied, which will allow you to store 0s and 1s in either state. You can store more states just by heating up the materials, but there’s a problem. The crystals can float depending on the ambient temperature. However, IBM team figured out how to track and encode those reactions of crystals, allowing them to meticulously read 3-bits of data per cell long after it was written.
“Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash,” says Dr. Haris Pozidis from IBM Research.
PCM memory could be used in conjunction with flash to substantially boost speeds in mobile devices. “For example, a mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds,” the company wrote in a press release. “In the enterprise space, entire databases could be stored in PCM for blazing fast query processing for time-critical online applications, such as financial transactions.”
PCM could be beneficial for the cloud-based artificial intelligence applications. It can withstand up to 10 million write cycles, whereas flash can withstand only 3000 cycles. PCM could be a possible industry-changing technology for data centers. IBM is already considering it as a perfect storage medium for Watson-like AI apps.