35th Anniversary of NAND Flash – A Different Perspective

35th Anniversary of NAND Flash – A Different Perspective

As KIOXIA and the rest of the flash memory market celebrated the 35th anniversary of NAND Flash this year, I found myself reflecting back on what the world was like 35 years ago. In 1987, the coolest gadget around was the boom box and gas retailed at $1.64 a gallon. It was the Reagan era and the year our president told Mr. Gorbachev to “take down that wall”. It was also the year that an engineer working for Toshiba Corporation in Tokyo invented a new memory technology which would change the way we do many things forever.

In 1989, the year I joined the Memory Business Unit, promotion efforts were dedicated to other types of memory technology. Our marketing and engineering teams were divided into three segments; DRAM, SRAM and non-volatile memory. DRAM was a driving force of our success as we were at the forefront of personal computing evolution. DRAM was (and still is) an essential memory for this market.

In my early years with the memory team, I supported Low Power SRAM but eventually moved over to the non-volatile memory team. Non-volatile refers to a memory’s capability to retain data even after power is shut off. The NVOL team, as we were called, promoted EEPROMs, MROMs and NOR flash (which Toshiba Corporation also invented).

While we were promoting these memory products, engineering teams in Japan were busy in R&D centers brainstorming about future technology requirements. How can we make things faster, use less power, more efficient, and smaller in size? What packaging options will be needed? What form factors should be considered? What are the temperature requirements and life cycle needs of the market?

I can remember the day our engineering team was scheduled to arrive in the US for a series of internal business unit meetings. The purpose of these meetings was to introduce a new technology called NAND flash memory. It was explained that this memory had the capability to store more data than NOR flash.  As we listened, we considered what kinds of applications would actually need more storage capability. It seemed like everything was moving along nicely and there were no strong requests from the market to develop anything new. We already had answers for storage requirements, didn’t we? Film already existed which stored pictures, compact discs stored music, camcorders captured video effectively. So we thought - how do we promote this new product? Who will need it?

As a result of these meetings, our marketing teams began preparing presentation material hoping to educate customers about this new memory concept. We trudged through airports, carrying briefcases filled with 15-20 presentation booklets to hand out to customers (there was no such thing as a soft copy at the time). Our task was to find applications that might need more storage in their devices and find challenges with what was currently being used. We needed to change the mindset of an engineering community that was perfectly happy with what they were already using, and resistant to trying something new. We had more disinterest than interest in the beginning, and while some were curious, no one was jumping out of the chairs asking for data sheets and samples.

However, over time, the idea of NAND flash gained more interest. One by one, applications such as audio recorders, digital personal assistants and photography started adopting the technology. Each year, more customers were added and acceptance started growing in the market. Before we knew it, NAND flash was everywhere, and other companies began investment in and development of the product.

It turns out, our forward-thinking R&D teams were right - the world was in need of a storage memory for the future. Today, many types of NAND products exist - each addressing specific storage and performance requirements. The end products are endless, and range from consumer to industrial to client to automotive. It’s true - NAND flash really has changed the world in a way we never expected. 

As I look back at my history with the company, I take pride in knowing that I was a part of KIOXIA history; and that KIOXIA has been and continues to be at the forefront of the promotion and acceptance of this groundbreaking technology that has forever changed the way we live.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of KIOXIA America, Inc.

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