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ITNews Article: Western Digital Takes The Risk And Leads An Open Computing Revolution With RISC-V

By November 16, 2018May 12th, 2021No Comments

Intel does not give developers access to its architecture, ARM requires huge capital, and ultimately system developers are left with a limited selection of processors that does not always match the task. Now, after the Linux and open source revolution, the world’s largest companies are leading a revolution of open architecture to hardware. In an interview with Western Digital‘s CTO , he explains the importance of the initiative and tells about the desire to invest in companies in the field.
“The amount of storage that people consume is increasing, and the technology that makes it possible to store everything does not grow at the same rate,” said Martin Fink, vice president of storage technology at Western Digital. Fink came to Israel to participate in a unique Meetup for the Israeli startup and development community initiated by Western Digital.
“I come to Israel once a year because we have a large R & D activity here,” says Fink, referring to the flash development center in Israel that was added to the company with the acquisition of SunDisk for $19 billion in 2015. “I like to spend time with the local teams. We also participated in the RISC-V Meetup, which is a major issue for the company today, and the team in Israel has invested considerable energy as leaders of RISC-V, not only here but everywhere.”
What is RISC-V ?
“RISC-V is an instruction set (ISA) – the basic language that a computer is talking about, and now every computer chip, Intel, ARM or others has its own language, but RISC-V is completely open and anyone can talk to it. At Western Digital, we have implemented this language in Israel in our own chip, so that everyone can assimilate it in any system, with the competitors, you can not do it, you have to pay a lot of money or there are limitations. Western Digital marked the opening of its technology as a strategic goal, and last year the company announced that all its products would be moved to work according to RISC-V. “This does not happen right away, but it’s a process that will take several years, which means the delivery of 1 billion processing cores per year based on RISC-V,” explains Fink.
Why is RISC-V so important to a storage company like Western Digital?
“We love RISC-V because it’s open, and it gives us a lot of flexibility in the way we develop our products, by doing what we choose rather than what others want.” We can optimize performance, price, power, and what is best for our product “He said. To promote RISC-V, Western Digital has partnered with Berkeley University to initiate the move, as a founding member of the RISC-V consortium. Since then, the number of companies has grown to 100, including Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, all of which have a great interest in revolution in the world of processors. Intel and ARM will not be there.
Why has not there been an open set of instructions for hardware so far?
“There were a few previous attempts, but they were not really open, but what they did at UC Berkeley was to create a completely open set of instructions, and I think we are entering a new era in which we have an open operating system with Linux, openness in languages, One that did not have openness.”
What is Berkeley’s need to promote an open configuration for processors?
“In their research, at Berkeley, they could not do what they wanted with the processor supply that existed in the market, either it was too complicated or they could not get the proper license, Intel does not let you get into their architecture and ARM demands a huge fee, And both have limitations on IP, and when you’re doing a research that’s exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do – you’re trying to share it with everyone, so they created their own set of instructions that became very popular very quickly.”
Does this openness endanger your business? 
On the contrary, we find it reduces risk. That is, instead of being locked into a certain provider, you have the freedom to do what you want. For a company like Western Digital, it makes sense to build its own chips, but most end users will not build their own chip. With RISC-V, they are not limited to receiving chips only from Intel, but can receive chips from a large number of manufacturers, especially dedicated chips for certain tasks. Many manufacturers will be able to build different versions of chips instead of what Intel or ARM are choosing for you.”
Fink stresses that licensing of RISC-V leaves the developer with the choice of opening his own creation to the community: “The instruction set is open, but the implementation can be closed or open, and at Western Digital we make the choice to open up everything we do because we try to encourage We hope that others will build on our work and develop something even better, like what happened with Linux.”
What part of the local team in development? 
“In Israel, we are developing the SSD controller, and it is our first solution to integrate RISC-V.”
“Startups, show us”
“Today, we have the widest range of high-reliability flash products, and if you go into every retailer you can see all the levels of performance and size – a huge array of products with the same infrastructure and the same smartphone application.” The power of Western Digital vis-à-vis other competitors in the market. “In the field of flash, we have a partnership with Toshiba in Japan, so we share the expensive cost of production and the knowledge to build very high-quality flash products, we are also active in hard disks, and many of our competitors are not. The two areas, so we provide the choice of what to put in your portfolios. ”
Do you feel threatened by China today?
“The advantage of RISC-V, because it is open, is that we can work with China without compromising our IP, it’s a very collaborative model, so China is an opportunity, an advantage, not a threat.”
“It will take time before China is ready with flash products that will be competitive against the rest of the industry,” says Fink. “We have major competitors, such as SK Hyniks and Micron and Samsung, and they are strong competitors, but in China we are far behind with the technology needed to build nanomaterials, we do not want to underestimate them, but that’s not an immediate threat.”
Are you looking for partners in Israel?
“We want to see more start-ups and capital investments in RISC-V, as well as start-ups that will implement our products.” There are a number of companies that have invested in them and are assimilating. Because we invested in companies, we can also help the companies we invest in to succeed in terms of knowledge.”
What is the message to storage entrepreneurs? 

Bring us your presentation. We are always looking for the next great idea to invest in. Storage is a great domain, the volume of storage is growing from year to year – every year. Entrepreneurs who want to get an investment, build the business plan and come and see us. “Fink notes that Western Digital usually invests only in companies that have already raised investments:” We are not usually the leading investors, so it’s better to find a venture capital fund first.”
 What are the hot trends in storage you invest in?
NVMe is a strong trend that the flash industry is moving towards in order to produce high performance. There is also the Fabric Attached Storage – which creates a fabric of storage devices. People who want to build storage on a fabric, are very interesting to us. There is also a relatively new term called “composability” that is gaining momentum. “The idea behind the interconnectivity,” explains Fink, “is this: Usually when you purchase a server, you have to decide how much CPU to put in it, how much memory and how much storage we do. The memory is connected to the fabric, and then you can reassemble, move and use it in different places on the network, like Lego units. ” Four months ago, Western Digital launched an API called King Fish, which makes it possible to automate programming through a virtual storage machine. “Another subject is machine learning and AI,” Fink adds. “There is a lot of investment and a lot of activity in the field. Here too we invest and develop because there is a lot of information stored on our devices, and we are in a position to merge the infrastructure with the technology. Esperanto is a model company we invested in – they built a machine learning accelerator, a RISC-V vector processor, similar to the NVIDIA GPU.
You said we’re on the way to a storage problem, what will allow us to overcome the problem?
“We have to continue to innovate, but with the technology we see today, it will certainly be a challenge, but there is a technological diversity on the way, there is a non-volatile memory on the way, and there is storage on DNA, For example, DNA allows you to save huge amounts of information, but creates an extra level of storage because you can store a huge amount of information in a very small area, but it takes a lot of time to extract the information. The hard disk has Energy Assisted technology called Mamer with Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording or Heat Assisted. Increase the density in the future.”
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