A few days ago, Apple paid USD$500 million to buy an Israeli startup, Anobit, a maker of flash storage technology.
Obviously, one of the reasons Apple did so is to move up a notch to differentiate itself from the competition and positions itself as a premier technology innovator. It has won the MP3 war with its iPod, but in the smartphones, tablets and notebooks space, Apple is being challenged strongly.
Today, flash storage technology is prevalent, and the demand to pack more capacity into a small real-estate of flash will eventually lead to reliability issues. The most common type of NAND flash storage is the MLC (multi-level cells) versus the more expensive type called SLC (single level cells).
But physically and the internal-build of MLC and SLC are the exactly the same, except that in SLC, one cell contains 1 bit of data. Obviously this means that 2 or more bits occupy one cell in MLC. That’s the only difference from a physical structure of NAND flash. However, if you can see from the diagram below, SLCs has advantages over MLCs.
NAND Flash uses electrical voltage to program a cell and it is always a challenge to store bits of data in a very, very small cell. If you apply too little voltage, the bit in the cell does not register and will result in something unreadable or an error. If you apply too much voltage, the adjacent cells are disturbed and resulting in errors in the flash. Voltage leak is not uncommon.
The demands of packing more and more data (i.e. more bits) into one cell geometry results in greater unreliability. Though the reliability of the NAND Flash storage is predictable, i.e. we would roughly know when it will fail, we will eventually reach a point where the reliability of MLCs will no longer be desirable if we continue the trend of packing more and more capacity.
That’s when Anobit comes in. Anobit has designed and implemented architectural changes of the way NAND Flash storage is used. The technology in laymen terms comes in 2 stages.
- Error reduction – by understanding what causes flash impairment. This could be cross-coupling, read disturbs, data retention impairments, program disturbs, endurance impairments
- Error Correction and Signal Processing – Advanced ECC (error-correcting code), and introducing the patented (and other patents pending) Memory Signal Processing (TM) to improve the reliability and performance of the NAND Flash storage as show in the diagram below:
In a nutshell, Anobit’s new and innovative approach will result in
- More reliable MLCs
- Better performing MLCs
- Cheaper NAND Flash technology
This will indeed extend the NAND Flash technology into greater innovation of flash storage technology in the near future. Whatever Apple will do with Anobit’s technology is anybody’s guess but one thing is certain. It’s going to propel Apple into newer heights.
Steve Jobs was great with what he has done, but when it comes to Cloud Computing, Jeff Bezos of Amazon is the one. And I believe the Amazon Web Services (AWS) is bigger than Apple’s iCloud, in this present time and the future. Why do I say that knowing that the Apple fan boys could be using me as target practice? Because I believe what Amazon is doing is the future of Cloud Computing. Jeff Bezos is a true visionary.
One thing we have to note is that we play different roles when it comes to Cloud Computing. There are Cloud Service Providers (CSP) and there are enterprise subscribers. On a personal level, there are CSPs that cater for consumer-level type of services and there are subscribers of this kind as well. The diagram below shows the needs from an enterprise perspective, for both providers and subscribers.
Also we recognize Amazon from a less enterprise perspective, and they are probably better known for their engagement at the consumer level. But what Amazon is brewing could already be what Cloud Computing should be and I don’t think Apple iCloud is quite there yet.
Amazon Web Services cater for the enterprise and the IT crowd, providing both Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) through its delectable offerings of the
- Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
- Simple Storage Service (S3)
- Elastic Block Store (EBS)
- Elastic Beanstalk
- many more
But the recent announcement of Kindle Fire, their USD$199 Android-based gadget, was to me, the final piece to Amazon’s Phase I jigsaw – the move to conquer the Cloud Computing space. I read somewhere that USD$199 Kindle Fire actually costs about USD$201.XX to manufacture. Apple’s iPad costs USD$499. So Amazon is making a loss for each gadget they sell. So what! It’s no big deal.
Let me share with you this table that will rattle your thinking a little bit. Remember this: Cloud Computing is defined as a “utility”. Cloud Computing is about services, content.
I hope the table is convincing you enough to say that the device or the gadget doesn’t matter. Yes, Apple and Amazon have different visions when it comes to Cloud Computing, but if you take some time to analyze the comparison, Amazon does not lock you into buying expensive (but very good) hardware, unlike Apple.
Take for instance the last point. Apple promotes downloaded media while Amazon uses streamed media. If you think about it, that what Cloud Computing should be because the services and the contents are utility. Amazon is providing services and content as a utility. Apple’s thinking is more old-school, still very much the PC-era type of mentality. You have to download the applications onto your gadget before you can use it.
Even the Amazon Silk browser concept is more revolutionary that Apple’s Safari. The Silk browser splits some of the processing in the Amazon Cloud, taking advantage of the power of the Amazon Cloud to do the processing for the user. Here’s a little video about Amazon Silk browser.
The Apple Safari is still very PC-centric, where most of the Web content has to be downloaded onto the browser to be viewed and processed. No doubt the Amazon Silk also download contents, but some of the processing such as read-ahead, applet-processing functions have been moved to Amazon Cloud. That’s changing our paradigm. That’s Cloud Computing. And iCloud does not have anything like that yet.
Someone once told me that Cloud is about economics. How incredibly true! It is about having the lowest costs to both providers and consumers. It’s about bringing a motherload of contents that can be delivered to you on the network. Amazon has tons of digital books, music, movies, TV and computing power to sell to you. And they are doing it at a responsible pace, with low margins. With low margins, the barrier of entry is lower, which in turn accelerates the Cloud Computing adoption. And Amazon is very good at that. Heck, they are selling their Kindle Fire at a loss.
Jeff Bezos has stressed that what they are doing is long term, much longer term than most. To me, Jeff Bezos is the better visionary of Cloud Computing. I am sorry but the reality is Steve Jobs wants high margins from the gadgets they sell to you. That is Apple’s vision for you.
Photo courtesy of Wired magazine.