The Non-volatile Systems Laboratory

UCSD CSE Computer Architecture

The Non-volatile Systems Laboratory (NVSL) was founded in 2008 and focuses on developing hardware and software prototypes to understand the hardware, software, security, and reliability implications of non-volatile, solid-state memories.  These memories are poised to fundamentally alter the role of persistent state in computing systems:
  • Their increased performance (between 1,000x and 1,000,000x faster that disk) gives us the chance fundamentally rethink how operating systems manage and use non-volatile state
  • Their reduced power consumption relative to both disk and DRAM mean they will play a key role in enabling "green" and "energy porportional" computing systems.
  • For embedded systems, advanced non-volatile memories can fullfill the promise of a "universal memory," playing the part of both DRAM and disk.
  • Their enormous density (relative to DRAM) and speeed (relative to disk) make them an essential component in emerging high-perfomance, data-centric computing systems.
At the same time, these technologies present difficulty (and exciting!) challenges:
  • Many of the technologies (especially flash) have durability limitations and require careful engineering to ensure system-level reliability.
  • The complexity of flash-based, solid-state disks (e.g., in cell phones and palm tops) raise security concerns because "deleted" data can easily be retreived.
  • Solid-state memories suffer from a range of failure modes and require aggressive error correction and detection mechanisms to ensure data integrity.
Our approach to all of these problems is to build hardware and software systems ranging from embedded storage arrays to flash-enabled high-performance clusters that allow us to characterize the challenges and test solution on "real world" systems.  We work with researchers at the Center for Magnetic Recording Research, the San Diego Super Computing Center, and within the Computer Science and Engineering Departement to bring a  wide range of expertise to bear on each of these issues.


Steven Swanson
Steven Swanson


Laura Grupp
Laura Grupp
Adrian Caulfield
Adrian Caulfield
Joel Coburn
Joel Coburn
Ameen Akel
Ameen Akel


National Science Foundation (NSF) Numonyx


A. Caulfield, L, Grupp, S. Swanson. "Gordon: Using Flash Memory to Build Fast, Power-efficient Clusters for Data-intensive Applications"  To appear ASPLOS'09. (pdf)

Tools and Prototypes

To understand the role that solid state will play in future systems, we are building a series of prototypes.  The first is the Zarkov I cluster (pictured below).  It provides a complete computing cluster (running full-fledged Linux) with a tightly integrated solid state storage array that support both NAND flash and emerging non-volatile technologies.

Zarkov I