IBM Touts the Next Great Data Storage Breakthrough

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With the world's data doubling every two years, researchers have been under pressure to figure out how to create a more efficient paradigm for storing data cheaply, and without consuming too much space or power. IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) may have reached a breakthrough.

Scientists at Big Blue's research facility in Zurich, Switzerland, have published a paper that describes chips that store data 100 times faster than existing NAND flash technology, yet without degrading at the same rate that current alternatives do, Computerworld reports.

Interestingly, the core technology isn't a breakthrough. Phase change memory, or PCM, has been used experimentally for some time now and has most recently been billed as a green memory alternative for its ability to rapidly store large amounts of data without consuming much power. IBM says it has improved the PCM equation by doubling the density of a chip and reducing the errors when reading data.

In PCM, errors occur because resistance changes as the chip's alloy material shifts phases from crystalline to amorphous. This change -- necessary to store data -- is known as drift, and it can create mistakes in reading stored information. Big Blue predicts and prevents common errors through an advanced modulation coding technique.

If successfully commercialized, these more stable PCM chips could grow to replace or substantially enhance short-term flash memory or drastically improve the size and efficiency of solid-state hard drives. Either implementation could change the way we use smartphones, tablets, and of course laptop computers.

For its part, IBM plans to license the technology in a manner similar to its work using nanotech to destroy bacterial superbugs. Potential licensees include memory makers such as Samsung and Micron Technology (NYSE: MU  ) while Flash profiteers SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) and STEC (Nasdaq: STEC  ) could find themselves disrupted.

The good news? It'll take some years for IBM to perfect its PCM for commercial use. Yet peers and rivals shouldn't sit idle. IBM's innovation is exactly the dish a data-hungry world needs right now.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of IBM at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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