Flash Memory

Flash memory is non-volatile, or secondary, computer memory typically present in devices such as solid-state drives (SSDs) and USB flash drives. It is commonly found in personal computers’ drives and enterprise storage solutions.

What is flash memory? 

Flash memory is a type of electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) that can be erased and reprogrammed in blocks, also known as cells. Cells are arranged in a grid on a flash device. Each cell has two transistors, and when electrical charge passes through, the behavior of the transistor determines the cell’s charge and whether the bit value is 0 or 1. Flash memory was invented by an engineer working at Toshiba in the 1980s.

Unlike random access memory, the data on a solid-state drive or other flash device does not disappear when the device is disconnected from power.  NAND is the most common variation of flash memory and is used in most standard consumer computing flash devices. 

NOR flash, another well-known flash architecture, works well for applications that require byte-level random access. NOR flash memory has parallel connections between cells, while NAND cell connections travel in a series and are more dependent on each other. NOR flash permits individual cell access, while NAND does not.

Flash memory refers specifically to the type of computer or device memory used, while a flash drive or SSD is a device that uses flash memory. The terms are connected but not interchangeable. 

Flash memory in enterprise data storage

Flash memory enables faster read and write speeds than memory in hard disk drives (HDDs) because flash drives have no moving parts. In data centers, where enterprises require rapid data access, flash memory allows businesses to quickly supply data for critical workloads.

Because flash memory requires no moving parts, flash drives like SSDs are also less likely to break than a hard drive. However, flash drives are still susceptible to drive failure, including read and write failures. Flash drives can only withstand so many reads and writes before they begin to wear. Some drives are suited more to frequent read cycles, while others are better suited to write cycles. 

Read more: The Flash Storage Market

Enterprise flash storage systems

  • Pure Storage FlashBlade is a flash storage solution for both object and file storage. FlashBlade can provide up to 15 GB/s bandwidth with 15 blades in one chassis. 
  • Pure Storage FlashArray offers NVMe all-flash for critical workloads and large-scale storage. FlashArray//X and FlashArray//XL offer up to 5.5 petabytes of effective capacity. 
  • IBM FlashSystem includes automation and security features in an all-flash array that offers six 9s of uptime.
  • NetApp All-Flash Array powers applications like AI and machine learning and large database operations. It allows users to build a hybrid cloud environment and offers up to 20 PB of NAS container storage. 
  • Dell EMC PowerMax is an NVMe flash array that offers up to 350 GB/s of sustained bandwidth. 
  • HPE Nimble Flash Array provides six 9s of availability and supports cloud backup. It’s also available as a disaggregated infrastructure, Nimble dHCI. 

Also read Best Storage and Disk Arrays

Future of flash memory

Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a solid-state drive technology that uses the PCI Express bus of a computer or server, rather than having to pass through a controller like other SSD technologies require. NVMe speeds surpass other interface speeds (like SATA), and some data centers use NVMe as a network to enable the speed across the entire data center, rather than within just one storage array.

Another advancement in data center technology is the EDSFF, one of the newest SSD form factors. EDSFF drives are larger than M.2 drives, the standard PC form factor, and have greater capacity for thermal management, making them less likely to overheat than other form factors while handling high-performance workloads. 

NVMe storage devices and NVMe over Fabric increase the speed at which enterprises supply data to their most important applications. 

Read next: Why NVMe is Now Poised for Enterprise Growth

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.
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