Apple and Facebook Flash Forward to Computer Memory of the Future

by CADE METZ,  |  published on March 15, 2013

North carolina

If you hire a plane, you can fly over the massive data center Apple operates in the woodlands of North Carolina, snapping some distant photos of the 500,000-square-foot facility that drives the company’s iCloud web services. And if you’re on foot, you can get a little closer. You might even sneak a peek at the solar farm or the biogas plant that helps power this internet engine room. But Apple won’t let you inside the building — and it won’t tell you what you might find there.

It would be nice to know. Like Google and Amazon, Apple delivers web services to hundreds of millions of people across the globe — at last count, iCloud served over 250 million souls — and that requires a whole new breed of hardware and software, stuff that’s far more efficient than the gear inside most data centers. You can think of this as the technology of tomorrow. As the web continues to grow, the tech used by the Apples and the Googles will trickle down to the rest of the world. In many cases, it already has.

“The internet giants are the harbinger,” says David Floyer, a longtime analyst in the data center world who now runs a tech research house called Wikibon.

What we do know is that Apple is spending mountains of money on a new breed of hardware device from a company called Fusion-io. As a public company, Fusion-io is required to disclose information about customers that account for an usually large portion of its revenue, and with its latest annual report, the Salt Lake City outfit reveals that in 2012, at least 25 percent of its revenue — $89.8 million — came from Apple. That’s just one figure, from just one company. But it serves as a sign post, showing you where the modern data center is headed.

Inside a data center like the one Apple operates in Maiden, North Carolina, you’ll find thousands of computer servers. Fusion-io makes a slim card that slots inside these machines, and it’s packed with hundreds of gigabytes of flash memory, the same stuff that holds all the software and the data on your smartphone. You can think of this card as a much-needed replacement for the good old-fashioned hard disk that typically sits inside a server. Much like a hard disk, it stores information. But it doesn’t have any moving parts, which means it’s generally more reliable. It consumes less power. And it lets you read and write data far more quickly.

But that’s only one way to think about it. The same card can also act like a beefed-up version of a server’s main memory subsystem — the place where the central processor temporarily caches data it needs quick access to. You see, today’s super-fast processors have outstripped not only the hard disk, but main memory — the hard disk is too slow, the memory too small — and with its flash cards, Fusion-io aims to remove both bottlenecks.

No comments yet - you can be the first!

Comments are closed.

Do you Love your country but hate your government?

Join your fellow Libertarians who seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others. Join over 500,000 Americans who get their daily dose of minimal government and maximum freedom with The New Liberty Movement.

We know how important your privacy is and your information is SAFE with us. We’ll never sell
your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time directly from your inbox.
View our full privacy policy.