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Using Flash Memory Instead of RAM to Reduce Energy Use


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For someone using a PC, RAM is an essential component that significantly impacts performance and stability. For data centers with numerous servers or supercomputers though, RAM can also be a huge use of power. Now researchers at MIT have found a way to potentially remove that cost by using Flash memory in a rather novel way.

Because RAM is a volatile memory technology, it has to constantly rewrite data to itself, which takes a lot of power over long periods of time. Flash memory however, is nonvolatile so no rewriting is needed, and thus it uses far less energy, but it is also slower. What the MIT researchers have done is design a network of servers that are based on Flash memory that can still match servers based on the faster RAM. This is accomplished by leveraging the computational power of the chips controlling the Flash memory. The researchers have these chips preprocessing data before passing it to the servers, creating a more efficient, distributed computation system.

For their prototype system, the researchers connected 20 servers to an array of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which can have their circuits reprogrammed, and the FPGAs connected to half-terabyte Flash chips. Though FPGAs are a bit too expensive to be used on a large scale, their ability to be made into specialized accelerators for running various algorithms could make them invaluable for this system.

Source: MIT

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