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Excellent Flash Memory Summit (FMS) History session with Eli Harari

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:
  1. The genesis of the Flash Endurance Transistor & a comparison to the MOS Floating Gate transistor (co-invented by Simon Sze, PhD at Bell Labs.
  2. 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.
  3. 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):
I really did enjoy the Eli Harari FMS history session--Brian, you did a great job!   One of the aspects that really impressed me was Eli's understanding of the differences between storage of programs/instructions and data, and the impact that would have on the need for write cycles.  Remembering my days at Intel, it was really unusual for a semiconductor guy to have such systems understanding.  It also brings to mind Bob Noyce's logic in hiring me--even in 1968 he realized that the trends in IC technology would lead to systems on a chip, and he approached Jim Angell of Stanford to suggest someone with a degree of systems experience.  I was on Jim's list and got the job.
I remember one discussion with a chip designer who was working on an early DRAM.  I needed to know the power requirements, and soon learned that the proposed chip power dissipation was a function of the address applied--and certain addresses if maintained would result in chip overheating to the point of possible destruction.  The chip designer had assumed that the addresses applied would average out to 50 percent ones or zeroes on each line.  My response was, suppose a computer user decides to wait for an interrupt, and writes a short loop that resides in the high-dissipation address area--the memory would burn up while waiting for the interrupt.  That comment resulted in a major design revision.
Eli's work was really a milestone.
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. Reference: Eli's CHM Oral History

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