Memory channel flash: is it over?

[full disclosure: day job has a relationship with Diablo]

Russell just pointed this out to me.

The short (pedestrian) version (I’ve got no information that is not public, so I can’t disclose something I don’t know anyway): Netlist filed a patent infringement suit against Diablo, and then included SanDisk as they bought Smart Storage, whom worked with Diablo prior to Smart being acquired by SanDisk. Netlist appears to have won an, at least temporary, injunction against Diablo.

Netlist makes fast DIMM chips and has IP in the fast DIMM interface. Yeah, highly simplified, but this is approximately correct. Its definitely more involved than that, but this is the pedestrian version.

Netlist claimed, and apparently convinced a patent court that it was being damaged by Diablo’s use of its IP. I know that part is in dispute by Diablo, and I cannot, and will not, comment on the merits of either the suit or any counter-suit.

It seems as part of this injunction involved SanDisk not being allowed to sell/ship its inventory. This aspect was just lifted. But SanDisk cannot acquire any more.

So what does this portend for memory channel flash?

I liked the idea, but for different reasons than others had been talking about in public. I’ve always felt that IO channel memory was a throwback to the old XMM/EMM PC days. What, you don’t remember those days? Putting a windowed ram card in an expansion chassis, addressing it 64kB at a time. It had some utility, but it used up valuable IO space. And it was slower than memory near the CPU. This was cured by using bigger memory address space systems.

Similarly, I looked at memory channel flash as a way to get flash closer to the CPU and away from the valuable IO channel lines. It could never really be primary memory, or even primary storage (unlike a number of pundits suggesting as such, this was a terrible idea). It would be fantastic as a temp space for paging, or for certain types of caching or persistence.

But thats on hold now, as Diablo and Netlist fight it out.

I’m not happy with this, and had hoped that a nice cross licensing would fix this quickly. Doesn’t look like this is happening though. And as Diablo is a startup, how long will they be able to hold out with revenues falling off? I am guessing they would be an acquisition target now for the likes of SanDisk or others (IBM?) whom has more power to push a deal with Netlist.

Not a great situation, though I am still hopeful for the Diablo team and the product. It looks really good, and we have a great use case.

Netlist isn’t a patent troll, they are legitimate technology company with interesting low latency memory DIMM technology. They came to our attention a number of years ago when we had very focused HFT customers trying to eek out any advantage anywhere. Diablo has been making good things IMO. I do wish there was a way to make this work for all.

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