On Thursday, August 13, 2015, a FMS audience enjoyed a marvelous “conversation” between FMS Technical Chair Brian Berg and SanDisk founder Eli Harari. PhD. Eli’s narrative was stimulated and augmented by very informative slides Brian created. Thanks also to Ken Pyle for video recording this special event.
Eli traced his career from his days as a PhD student at Princeton (1969-1973), to Hughes Microelectronics (where he had “tremendous freedom” dong research work for the US government), to Intel (EPROM inventor and fellow Israeli Dov Frohman hired him), to two start-ups he founded in the 1980s (Wafer Scale Integration and SunDisk). SunDisk was incorporated June 1, 1988) and was later was SanDisk. The company’s history is detailed here.
It was interesting that then Intel CEO Andy Grove turned down Eli’s request to do a “skunk works” flash memory project because it was deemed “too elitist.” Also that Intel’s flash memory was really only good for instruction/program storage- not data storage. That’s because it would “wear out/fail hard” after some number of writes into given memory cells. As a result, Eli and his colleagues created, designed & developed a “Flash High Endurance Transistor” which became the core building block for Flash memories that had sufficient endurance and reliability for thousands of memory write cycles.
Another item that was interesting was the need for a “Controller” to manage the Flash memory arrays and also perform many auxiliary functions. Eli recognized this early on and called the concept “System Flash.” He hired Robert Norman as the systems engineer at SanDisk that would be responsible for systems design of Flash memory arrays. Mr Norman received a Lifetime Achievement award at a ceremony that immediately followed this history session.
Hopefully, the Sept 30 IEEE SV Tech History/CNSV panel session with Eli (and 2 others) will explore some of these gems:
- The genesis of the Flash Endurance Transistor & a comparison to the MOS Floating Gate transistor (co-invented by Simon Sze, PhD at Bell Labs.
- More details about the systems functions of the Flash Memory Controller and the opposition some leading companies/leaders had in paying for it would also be very informative and interesting.
- How SanDisk was able to beat the competition and emerge as the #1 seller of Flash technology. [A FMS speaker said today that SanDisk & Toshiba together produce 40% of all Flash memory shipped today.]
Comment from Ted Hoff Jr, PhD (via email):
About Eli Harari, PhD:
Eli Harari invented the industry’s first practical floating gate EEPROM in 1976 while working at Hughes Microelectronics. In 1978 he published research work on the physics of conduction and trapping in highly stressed ultrathin films of SiO2 under Fowler-Nordheim write/erase tunneling that became the foundational physics for today’s NAND Flash. This 1976-78 work was recognized with an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing for the Floating Gate EEPROM. Eli also worked at Intel, and founded SunDisk (later renamed SanDisk) in 1988, where he served as CEO and Chairman. He invented MLC (Multi-Level Cell) Flash, and co-invented System-Flash.
Eli holds approximately 150 issued patents, and has authored numerous technical publications. He received the 2004 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Award, the 2006 IEEE Reynold B. Johnson Data Storage Device Technology Award, the 2008 GSA (Global Semiconductor Alliance) Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award, and the 2009 IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal for Exceptional Contributions to the Microelectronics Industry. He was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame in 2011, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
He received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2014 for “invention and commercialization of Flash storage technology to enable ubiquitous data in consumer electronics, mobile computing, and enterprise storage.“