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Hard Drives are Dying (Or Maybe Not)

Datamation"It is extremely likely that some current technologies may not survive in their current form."

That's the opening sentence of Jeffrey Layton's discussion about the future of hard drives in Enterprise Storage Forum, and clearly it's an understatement. Layton takes a deep dive into the challenges facing traditional spinning disks, HDD, namely deep encroachment by SSD, as well as Intel/Micron’s 3D XPoint NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM).

Will SSD Prices Fall Enough to Wipe the Hard Drive Market?

On the SSD front, one of the factors I find most interesting about the rise of flash is the ever-changing forecast about its falling price. SSD offers better performance than hard drives and are also more expensive – but this greater expense is a key factors in favor of HDD. However, it seems as time goes by, the distant date when SSD prices fall enough to fully wipe out the hard drive market seems to move closer and closer.

As Layton observes:

Just a few years ago, the average $/GB for an SSD was about $1/GB, even for consumer drives. Now some of them are below $0.25/GB. Given that the sequential performance of an SSD is about 5-10 times that of a hard drive and the random IOPS performance is 3-5 orders of magnitude greater than a hard drive, SSDs are becoming extremely popular as a storage medium.

Eventually, it appears, there won’t be a cost justification for HDD, at which point they will head to the trash bin of data storage history. Or, alternately, the relative cheapness of hard drives will continue to win them a place in data storage, for lower priority storage tiers. Possibly they'll take up a role in longer term storage, the niche that tape still shines in.

Yet in the longest term scenario, the future for hard drives doesn't look bright.

On The Other Hand

Before you stop shopping for hard drives altogether, however, consider the factors that suggest hard drives have a good long life ahead of them.

In a contrarian article posted on Enterprise Storage Forum entitled Hard Drives Are Here To Stay (For Now), storage analyst Greg Schulz noted that HDD are seeing significant performance improvements. For instance, Seagate's shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which boosts disk density to achieve an impressive 25% more capacity.

Moreover, both Seagate and Western Digital are investing in heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology. Remarkably, Seagate CTO Mark Re told Enterprise Storage Forum that, in contrast to a current HDD technology that offers 1 terabit per inch of max density, HAMR will offer 4 terabit per inch density. Think about storing 60TB of data on a 3.5 inch disk. And this isn’t just a dev pipedream – storage products that incorporate HAMR should be available in 2018, Re told ESF.

Given the HDD performance enhancements, coupled with the likely price drops, it seems that HDDs will be with us a good long time.


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