Datacenter Trends

Micron's Buyout of Intel Partnership Boosts Its Datacenter Chops

At stake is a fabrication facility that makes 3D XPoint tech, which datacenter analysts see as an answer to the increasing performance demands of AI and HPC.

Memory and storage solutions provider Micron is planning to buy out Intel's interest in their joint venture, Intel Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT), the company announced last week.

Analysts watching this market believe Micron's move will strengthen the company's datacenter play.

"This transaction demonstrates Micron's commitment to 3D XPoint solutions and confidence in our emerging memory technology roadmap, which will enable our customers to create significant value in a broad range of markets, particularly artificial intelligence [AI] and Big Data analytics applications," said Manish Bhatia, Micron's executive vice president of global operations, on a conference call.

The two chip makers joined forces in 2006 to establish the IMFT organization, through which they began developing NAND flash memory and 3D XPoint ("three dee cross point") technology at a fabrication facility in Lehi, Utah. The "Lehi fab" produced both the NAND and 3D XPoint chips until the NAND line was discontinued this year. The fab now focuses solely on 3D XPoint production. Micron gets the fab and its employees when the buyout is completed.

3D XPoint is another class of nonvolatile memory (i.e., it doesn't require power to retain data), which the two companies have claimed is up to 1,000 times faster than NAND, with 1,000 times greater endurance and 10 times the storage density of conventional memory. Micron and Intel agreed earlier this year to conclude their joint development of the technology after completing the second generation in the second half of 2019.

Faster than NAND and denser and cheaper than DRAM, 3D XPoint is getting attention from the datacenter market as a potential solution to the increasing performance demands of AI and high-performance computing (HPC) applications.

The two companies said they will be pursuing their own 3D XPoint product lines: Intel's existing Optane and Micron's new QuantX, which the company is expected to launch in late 2019 using the second generation of the technology the companies are still working on.

"Micron's acquisition of IM Flash demonstrates our strong belief that 3D XPoint technology and other emerging memories will provide a unique differentiator for the company and be an essential solution for new data-hungry applications," said Micron President and CEO Sanjay Mehrotra in a statement. "This investment provides Micron with an established development and manufacturing facility and a highly skilled workforce with a strong track record of innovation and execution."

The datacenter has long been an important focus of Micron. In 2016, the company established the Micron Accelerated Solution Center in Austin, Texas, specifically to "help transform the datacenter" with a portfolio of solid-state drives (SSDs) and support software.  

Intel's Optane SSDs, which the company released over the last year with a focus on personal computers and corporate servers, are already delivering performance well above NAND-based SSDs.

Micron has until Jan 1, 2019, to exercise its call option. The timeline to close the transaction is between six and 12 months after the date Micron exercises the call.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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