Home > Dr. Eli Harari, flash memory, global semiconductor industry, ISA, Sandisk, Semiconductors > Flash will be bigger than you ever imagined in the coming decade: Dr. Eli Harari, SanDisk CEO

Flash will be bigger than you ever imagined in the coming decade: Dr. Eli Harari, SanDisk CEO

March 10, 2010

Next time you buy a new smartphone or mobile Internet device(MID)/handheld device/tablet PC/netbook with more storage capacity, you may want to thank SanDisk, as chances are that the internal flash memory inside your new smartphone or MID/handheld device/tablet PC/netbook  could have well come from this company!
Dr. Eli Harari, chairman and CEO, SanDisk.

Dr. Eli Harari, chairman and CEO, SanDisk.

No surprises for sure, but flash will be bigger than you ever imagined, in the coming decade, said Dr. Eli Harari, SanDisk chairman and CEO! He was speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum organized today by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA).

He said that flash memory is ubiquitous and growing. Today’s smartphone is equivalent to the ‘new PC’ and it allowed a route to flash SSD as well. The mobile Internet is still in the early stages of its innings and will go on to become even bigger than anyone could ever imagine.

Further, cloud computing, the last node on the network, would soon be in your pocket. Finally, it is getting hard to do highly scaled flash. Systems solutions are now becoming key. SanDisk, he added, is currently playing to its strengths.

Dr. Harari pointed out that predictions made by SanDisk way back in 1999 — flash would be going neck and neck with HDDs and SRAMs/DRAMs — had turned out to be true in 2010!

The period from 1990-99 were the early days for flash memory storage, finding applications in industrial, military, etc. It was also the period of the early development of digital film, as well as emergence of early PDAs. This period was marked by the early days of the Web.

The period from, 2000–2009 has been one of digitial consumer revolution. Flash is now a ubiquitous, strategic enabler for portable personal content. This period marked the early days of Mobile Internet. We also saw 3G networks take off, and iPhone and mobile applications taking off as well. Similarly, this period also witnessed the birth of the revolution called social networking.

On NAND, he said that 2005–2009 witnessed 45-55 percent annual cost reductions.
* SLC –> MLC (~90 percent of bits).
* 200mm –> 300mm, mega-fabs, automation, immersion lithography.
* Unprecedented productivity thru rapid technology transitions.

During the period 2010–2013, the segment will witness 25-35 percent annual cost reductions.
* MLC –> X3 (~50 percent of bits).
* NAND technology more challenging at 1x nm, 1y nm.
* EUV lithography will likely be required below 1x nm.

SanDisk is developing 3D read/write memory in scalable cross-point diode array. The joint development with Toshiba, is proceeding at Yokkaichi, Japan. While it is said to be making good progress with R/W layer, it is not yet ready for production.

At x8 equivalent, and given SanDisk’s knowhow in 3D diode arrays, D. Harari said 3D R/W is the most likely successor for NAND in the coming decade. This could usher a second SSD wave.

Growth in coming decade
Reflecting on the coming decade, he said the industry shipped 6 hexabytes in 2009, but by 2013, this will go up to 70 hexabytes. He cautioned that bringing in new capacity in the industry could turn out to be expensive and tough.

Flash markets are still young, and most of the growth lies ahead. Especially, in areas such as legacy/consumer, mobile and computing.  Flash is present in legacy/consumer devices such as digital cameras, digital camcorders, GPS, MP3 players, gaming, USB flash drives, eBooks, as well as in mobile/computing, such as netbooks, notebooks, tablets, MIDs, servers, enterprise, etc. Flash is also to be seen in automotive, industrial, medical and military applications.

Dr. Harari pointed out that the iPhone/smartphones and tablets had now emerged as the ‘new PC’. The year 2006 was the inflection point where notebook PCs and smartphones shipments broke away from desktop PCs. Now, the shipments of notebook PCs and smartphones were dwarfing shipments of desktop PCs.

He presented an interesting example of the growing semiconductor content in iPhones:
* 2007 — iPhone 2.5G — 4, 8, 16 GB.
* 2008 — iPhone 3G — 8, 16 GB.
* 2009 — iPhone 3G S — 16, 32 GB.

NAND accounted for nearly 40 percent of the semiconductor content in the iPhone, closely followed by the LCD. Other key ingredients getting into an iPhone include the camera/module, baseband, AP, DRAM, WiFi and RF.

Flash SSD to be massive
According to Dr. Harari, flash SSD will grow significantly in the coming decade. While the SSD adoption is still in the early stages, the market is likely to accelerate in 2011 with 2x nm NAND. The tipping point had been reached with1x nm NAND.

Further, SSD will come in all kinds of form-factors (e.g. thin), and optimized for specific usage models, fostering new architectures/innovation. The SSD price elasticity will also serve to correct the industry excess supply. He added, “We see SSD as playing to our strengths in systems, IP and captive supply, and expect to be a long term SSD participant.”

He also touched upon SanDIsk’s JV fabs. In 2009,
* ~1.5 million 300 mm wafers output (SanDisk)
– returned to 100 percent utilization in H2.
* Bit output growth ~38 percent
– includes JV restructuring
– 43nm >90 percent bit production
– X3/X4 ~50 percent of bit production

Dr. Harari said that the SanDisk-Toshiba partnership has been building on 10 years of NAND collaboration. Eight generations of MLC and three generations of X3 have been developed jointly for over 10 years.

The two companies have also done R&D collaboration and cost sharing, especially in NAND and 3D read/write. They have two existing flash manufacturing JVs in Fab 3 and Fab 4.  SanDisk and Toshiba combined 300mm NAND capacity is more than 4 million wafers/year. The cost benefits capture the full scale of production in Fab 3 and Fab 4. Dr. Harari said that building a similar fab today would cost $8 million.

SanDisk has an assembly/test facility in Shanghai, China, which adds to its competitive advantage. SanDisk’s NAND roadmap includes going to 24nm X3 in 2011 and up to 1xnm X2, X3 in 2013. “We moved from 90nm in 2006 to 24nm in 2010,” he added.

Dr. Harari further mentioned that the iPhone had changed the mobile communications landscape. It also gave birth to two dramatic threats that carriers could face — the dumb pipe dilemma and the clogged pipe dilemma. These threats can be significantly addressed by flash, and SanDisk is uniquely equipped to deliver.

Finally, SanDisk’s global reach is stronger than ever. It is a premium brand in memory cards in retail. It has 242,000 retail storefronts globally, and five of the top 10 customers in 2009 were global handset manufacturers (OEMs) SanDisk has also been witnessing an increasing contribution to its revenue from the emerging markets. Marketing campaigns to enhance brand awareness and premium have been the keys to its success in BRIC nations.

SanDisk entered India and set up its Bangalore R&D center five years ago. The Bangalore center, said to have a headcount of 150. provides engineering support. Dr. Harari said that the company wants to escalate it to a Center of Excellence (CoE).

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  1. Ravi
    March 12, 2010 at 5:19 am

    Good to know

  2. Anil Gupta
    March 13, 2010 at 3:31 am

    Excellent Summary – gives a very good picture of SanDisk’s past and more importantly, its future.

    There is no doubt that SanDisk has played a stellar role in enabling the whole consumer industry in the area of “movable storage” and Digital Film. Their execution has been brilliant despite tough economic phases over the past decade and a half. There are very few players in the industry that have combined consistent technology innovation with solid execution to deliver such value to the customers.

    Really something for others to study and emulate.

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