Nov 14

Strange Bedfellows??

On October 1, Adesto* Technologies announced that it had acquired Atmel’s DataFlash and Serial Flash business groups. At first sight, this seemed a rather counter intuitive move for one of the most aggressive (and visible) companies in the emerging memory field. The purchase raised many questions to those, not least the moderator of this Blog, who have followed Adesto and its development of CBRAM** (Conductive Bridging RAM). Was this a case of the company refocusing its attention towards Flash or is there more to the acquisition than meets the eye? Is it possible for a relatively young start-up to develop a successor technology while keeping customers happy (and supplied) with products based on the very technology they aim to replace?

While Flash memory technology has been around for more than two decades, Adesto started development of CBRAM in just 2007. Originally invented by Dr. Fujio Masuoka of Toshiba in 1980, Flash was at first most successful as a storage device for PC BIOS code and embedded firmware. This became a $5B market and was only surpassed in $ terms by NAND Flash in the last decade. Both Flash technologies are thought to be reaching the end of scaling and so alternative memory technologies have emerged as possible successors. Of these, resistive RAM has recently taken the spotlight from phase change based technologies and many large companies like Micron and SanDisk have entered the game.

The development of CBRAM is one of the fastest in the history of new memory as Adesto have gone from Lab to Fab with their initial 1Mb EEPROM device in just 5 years. Adesto have also signed up several major Semiconductor OEMs to licenses for embedding the memory technology and it is believed that ultra- low voltage CBRAM memory can extend the market for EEPROM and NOR far into the future and at lower cost.

With the acquisition of Atmel’s serial flash group, Adesto has taken a huge step towards being able to introduce their CBRAM technology to a large customer base that uses Flash for their code storage needs. However, this is not without real risks and as I expect many of Atmel’s customers will have real concerns that the products they currently rely on may be superseded by some ‘new-fangled nanotechnology’. (It never pays to under estimate the conservatism of one’s paying customers.) I expect there are some difficult discussions going on out there as Adesto reassures customers that the products the customers rely on will still be available when the customers want them. It is also going to stretch a company that has presumably multiplied its sales volume many fold, literally overnight. But if Adesto can pull this off, they will, at a stroke, have gained not just a customer base but a sales and marketing arm that will give them priceless insights into potential markets and applications for their technology.

Christie Marrian, www.ReRAM-Forum.com Moderator

*Adesto Technologies sponsor www.ReRAM-Forum.com and have provided some background information for this post.

**On a somewhat unrelated note, the trademark CBRAM (Reg. No. 4235215) was issued to Adesto Technologies on Oct. 30, 2012 by the USPTO.

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