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Flash Consultants Honor Requirements Pioneer Amber Huffman

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Amber Huffman’s entry into engineering was unintended—and lucky for the semiconductor {industry}: She’s an extrovert in a subject that usually attracts introverts however wants individuals to return collectively to collaborate.

Organizers of final month’s Flash Reminiscence Summit just lately gave Huffman a lifetime achievement award  for her work in defining and driving vital {industry} requirements, starting together with her early work at Intel.

She didn’t set out be part of the semiconductor {industry}, nonetheless, and even the broader know-how sector.

“I didn’t know any engineers rising up,” Huffman informed EE Instances, noting that her household raised pigs in Iowa.

As a woman, Huffman supposed to  change into a physician or lawyer. Her English trainer, nonetheless, identified her aptitude for math and science and the supply of associated scholarships. “I undoubtedly wanted a scholarship, and so I went into engineering.”

An Intel scholarship centered on ladies in science and engineering got here with an internship that led to twenty years inside the similar group on the firm—the place Huffman realized to drive requirements and ecosystems. “I found out that I used to be good at herding cats,” she mentioned.

In recognition of her contributions to Intel and the data-storage {industry}, she was named Intel Fellow in 2016—solely the third lady nominated for that honor in Intel’s historical past, organizers of the Flash Reminiscence Summit famous final month. She’s been granted 25 patents in storage structure and associated applied sciences, they added.

Huffman’s extroverted nature has confirmed precious for bringing individuals collectively, particularly those that choose to be left alone to concentrate on their work, like writing code, she mentioned.

Her early days at Intel centered on Serial ATA (SATA) and led to the event of its programming interface, the Superior Host Controller Interface (AHCI). SATA would change into the dominant consumer and nearline information middle laborious drive interface and led to Huffman receiving an Intel Achievement Award. In 2004, she co-led growth of CE-ATA for disk drives utilized in small electronics gadgets just like the Apple iPod.

This was just the start of a profession that’s concerned fostering collaboration amongst various stakeholders to develop requirements which have change into ubiquitous in modern-day computing.

Huffman mentioned a recurring problem is that folks discuss previous one another: “As engineers, we now have a pure tendency to actually admire the problem in what we do versus discovering the widespread floor and the simplicity and coming collectively and making it less complicated.” Her focus has been serving to individuals discover the commonality and with the ability to synthesize the complicated—in order that they arrive collectively to interrupt down an issue and mover quicker as a workforce.

Understanding the significance of collaboration

Amber Huffman (Supply: Craig Mitchelldyer)

Now main Google’s {industry} engagement within the information middle ecosystem, Huffman has witnessed an enormous shift within the dynamics of the semiconductor {industry}.

“It was once you would simply form of go in your silo and develop one thing after which let one thing come out,” she mentioned. “However now issues are altering so rapidly that collaboration is simply changing into increasingly vital, after which determining strategically the place you differentiate.”

Collaboration is vital, partly, as a result of the gamers concerned in growing requirements are not simply these within the semiconductor house. The software program firms and hyperscalers are additionally main forces in driving the ecosystem. An instance is the discharge of NVMe 2.5, which is focused for October, on the 2023 OCP World Summit. “Google’s becoming a member of in,” Huffman mentioned.

Growth of recent options have to be buyer pushed by collaboration, she added. “We all know that folks can’t construct a distinct characteristic set for every buyer. It’s simply too costly and too complicated.” That’s why Google, Microsoft, Meta, Dell, HP and different firms are coming collectively to carry readability.

Huffman mentioned she was “flabbergasted” when knowledgeable she was up for the life achievement award as a result of her achievements aren’t hers alone. “I’ve been so blessed with so many collaborators and we’ve moved the ecosystem ahead,” she mentioned. “It’s fairly cool to observe what we’ve all performed collectively.”

Guaranteeing success of flash

Jim Helpful, principal analyst at Goal Evaluation and presenter of the award, mentioned the Flash Reminiscence Summit honors not solely individuals who have invented know-how or led a major effort or firm, but additionally those that have enabled flash to succeed. This consists of authentic requirements, in addition to these began by others.

“Amber is a stellar instance of anyone who has performed that together with her work in requirements,” Helpful mentioned.

The perfect instance of Huffman’s achievements on the requirements entrance was co-leading the creation of the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) consortium in 2006 to outline a regular for flash reminiscence chips, he mentioned. “Earlier than that, if you happen to had been utilizing a Samsung half, you then couldn’t use the Toshiba half in the identical socket as a result of they had been simply very incompatible.”

Even if you happen to caught with the identical vendor, he added, their newest half could be incompatible with the socket for the earlier half: “You’d have to revamp your circuit board. The ONFI customary mentioned, ‘We’re placing a cease to that. All people’s components are going to play in the identical socket’.”

Huffman chaired ONFI’s working group to outline, create and drive the usual that was rapidly adopted by the ONFI member firms. She was additionally instrumental in securing an industry-wide ONFI-JEDEC specification that’s confirmed vital to creating flash reminiscence chips cheap.

In 2007, Huffman based the NVM Host Controller Interface (NVMHCI) workgroup to outline a client-caching interface to be used with ONFI-compatible Flash modules. Though client-caching noticed restricted industrial success, the emergence of PCI Categorical (PCIe) SSDs in 2009 gave her the chance to leverage “Enterprise NVMHCI” to carry these SSDs to the mainstream—an effort that led to NVM Categorical (NVMe), the place Amber led its path and served because the specification editor till 2017. She continues to guide the group, because the president of NVM Categorical, Inc.

Different notable requirements work by Huffman consists of main the event of storage kind elements just like the M.2 kind issue. In 2017, she based, chaired, and led the Enterprise & Datacenter SSD Type Issue (EDSFF) Working Group, which defines form-factor requirements primarily based on a standard connector, in addition to options to assist a spread of lengths primarily based on system want.

Increase AI, ML

Huffman views the vast adoption of NVMe as one of the important milestones of her profession as a result of it’s the constructing block of the cloud—and in the end AI and machine studying (ML).

The generative AI taking place as we speak wouldn’t be potential with out SSDs, she mentioned, including: “It’s fairly cool to see the way in which that the fashionable world is enabled in societal infrastructure by one thing that you simply labored on.”

Huffman doesn’t see a lifetime achievement award as an indication that it’ time to decelerate; she has issues to do. “I actually recognize the way in which that the ecosystem, after we come collectively, can rework issues,” she mentioned.

ONFI and NVME are simply two of the various highlights, she mentioned, and shifting over to Google is increasing the panorama: “There’s a a lot bigger purview, even past reminiscence and storage.”

Huffman cited her fortune of being surrounded by individuals who created psychologically protected environments, particularly in her early days at Intel. Such a supportive atmosphere is crucial to encouraging variety within the sector—for not solely individuals of shade and girls but additionally introverted males, she mentioned.

Having battled most cancers in 2014—an ordeal that included chemotherapy and a hysterectomy—Huffman took little time without work and was properly supported by her colleagues. “We can assist preserve extra individuals excelling on this {industry} by supporting individuals by life’s inevitable challenges and failures at work, too,” she mentioned.

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