back to article Are disk drives beginning to spin down?

Are flash and cloud storage starting to end the disk drive's spectacular run on the storage stage? Seagate has just announced its second quarter results for is fiscal 2011 year, with an abrupt drop in profits - $150m compared to $533m a year ago; and lower revenues too - $2.7bn compared to $3.03bn a year ago. Western Digital' …


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  1. David Simpson 1

    Cloud Shmoud

    The cloud can't reduce HDD sales, if people use a cloud storage service instead of local storage then it is still being saved on an HDD.

    Just in a data center somewhere instead of on a local system.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Cloud schmoud

      It affects the kinds of drives being sold, which may affect profits, and the actual story here is a fall in profits rather than a specific claim about "number of discs sold". I expect the discs used for cloud-based storage will be optimised for capacity, on the assumption that the cloud will be a "write-once, never bother to read again" medium for most people.

    2. Meghan Stewart
      Thumb Up

      I agree

      Data has to be stored somewhere and on something. If I was building a massive datacenter would I buy all expensive flash disks to put in my array or would I go for the cheap SATA drives? Until the price of flash and other upcoming fast access stoarge devices comes down, you will not see a big shift to it.

      I, personally, am planning to buy a new SAN for the office and put flash drives into it for frequently accessed data and SCSI drives for live data but lesser or archived data can rot on SATA for years for all I care.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Not Quite

      Although the same amount of data will be stored and it will be stored on a HDD. A data center will be MUCH more efficient at storing it. Much higher utlisation of the drives. So less will be consumed vs a HDD and external HDD for every PC.

    4. Pete B
      Thumb Up

      Why a title when I'm replying?

      It can slightly - if the reason is that people aren't buying PCs used only for web-browsing but rather Tablets etc then thats hard drives that aren't needed - in the PC they're just acting as boot media and local cache.

      Agree with you about storage of data though - it has to be _somewhere_ - unless 'the cloud' has immense de-dup capability

    5. lurker

      yes but

      When you buy 2TB of storage somewhere from a 'cloud' vendor, do you think they actually purchase and slap in a new 2TB drive. No, they'll aggregate much like ISPs do, because they can probably get away with purchasing considerably less storage than they actually sell.

    6. Aaron Em


      I have no clue why so many people who damn well ought to know better are so high on "the cloud" -- I guess it must be a cloud of pot smoke. How else to explain the commonality of this delusion that "cloud storage" means anything other than "the same big-box-of-disk-in-a-data-center model we've been using for the last decade and a half"?

      It's just a buzzword, people! For God's sake, *think* a little before you fall for the latest fad!

    7. Ben Oldham

      oh look - a title!

      It can - cloud storage is typically on fewer, bigger disks, is typically thin provisioned, and de-duplicated.

      1. Ammaross Danan


        "The cloud means consumers are using remote storage from service providers more and more, so that they need fewer gigabytes or terabytes of external storage."

        I don't know about you, but it takes FOREVER to upload/download a few gigabytes worth of pictures from a cloud service. Perhaps when 100mbps fiber runs to everyone's home will cloud storage be viable for the common use. However, I tend not to use it for anything larger than documents and spreadsheets.

        That said, The standard hard drives computers come with now (500GB) practically eliminate a home user's desire to buy an external drive. Before, they only had 120GB if that, so they needed to buy externals to store more of the family pictures/movies/porn. Home users tend not to consider backups, and are unlikely to buy an external soley for backups, which is why cloud services are a benefit to the casual word-doc writer.

        As SSDs gain prominence, PCs likely will start shipping with SSDs instead of HDDs in netbooks, laptops, perhaps desktops. However, "home user" won't know the difference and will simply go for the big numbers. I think, quite literally, joe-uzer sees "500GB" and thinks that's RAM, and instantly believes that's better than the 120GB SSD-equiped computer. Even though they likely won't even use a quarter of the SSD, they still buy the 500GB machine. This is why SSDs will have a hard time penetrating the retail market. My hope is that Win8 comes out with their own brand of ZFS storage tiering so manufacturers can pop a 60GB SSD and a 1TB HDD into a computer and just let Windows decide where to stick the OS, Programs, and word docs. Home users wouldn't know the difference between C: and D:, and so the OS should just make it a transparent thing for "Simple Mode" (think of Simple Network Sharing vs "advanced").

        1. Mark 65

          Drive size

          i don't quite agree with your comments about 500GB being enough. Certainly is for web perusers and emailers but anyone who has hopped on the HD bandwagon in the last couple of years and bought a camcorder will have noticed that they piss through disk storage like no tomorrow. HD camcorders are probably what keeps large disk sales going for everyday users.

      2. Graham Wilson

        @Aaron Em: Absolutely correct, and besides pot smoke, it's propaganda's work!

        Besides pot smoke it's proof positive that propaganda actually works well!

        You're spot on, but as we've seen many times before, even so-called level-headed techies fall arse-over-tit for the latest hi-tech fad, this being the latest in a long line and it certainly won't be the last.

        Even Bill Gates once believed his own rhetoric that 640k memory was enough for personal computing and see what an unmitigated disaster that turned out to be, it must have have set computing back at least a decade or so. But what was even worse was that industry leaders with equal power and influence but who actually knew better didn't even challenge him on his ridiculous notion, whilst they seemed so ridiculous and limiting to many of us little non-entities that we nearly choked on them.

        Almost by definition, notions, whether valid or otherwise, once uttered by high priests and gurus become unchallengeable by the mainstream. The fact is that once good marketing and propaganda end up commanding the orthodoxy, history has shown us that techies are even more gullible than the rest of the population.

        The Goebbels effect* is alive an well, marketing the Cloud being just another prime example.


        * aka emperor's new clothes syndrome.

    8. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Taken into consideration.

      The article does note that Flash and other SSD usage is also increasing at the Enterprise level (that is to say, businesses, including server farms). Flash's higher MTBF has a positive influence on the TCO, especially on read-heavy jobs where Flash's shortcomings aren't as prevalent. The only stumbling block at the moment is the initial price premium, but enterprises may be more willing to put in a premium initial investment for a better TCO.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Someone still has to sign the requisition.

        Memory based storage has already been in use in the Enterprise for applications that need better performance. This is very old news actually. SSD has been around the data center for a long time. OTOH, there has been a lot of growth on the "low end" with corps trying to save money by using what looks like more desktop-centric storage. (translation: SATA)

        Although at the end of the day corps run on annual and quarterly cycles and any large upfront costs will be resisted heavily. That works to the disadvantage of SSD today just like it did 10 years ago.


      Cloud Schmoud Part 2, the revenge.

      ...not only that but if this local storage is being replaced by disk storage in the cloud then it will likely be more expensive disks as well with all of the other expensive trappings (SAN, backups) that go along for the ride.

      1. elderlybloke

        Um Yes


        That's what I started thinking, a cloud is a nebulous thing.

  2. James Hughes 1

    So which is it...

    Spend a fortune on flash storage, or a fortune on fast enough broadband to enable me to store data in the cloud.

    or spend not very much on a disk drive.

    Methinks it has (quite) a few years yet.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @James Hughes - Correct and SSDs aren't all that they're cracked up to be.

      Correct and Solid State Drives/SSDs aren't all that they're cracked up to be (but they've excellent marketing and an intrinsic nerd factor--'the no moving parts effect'--which belies actual reality).

      Compared to hard disks, SSDs are still ridiculously expensive, whilst faster than HDs all-up they're not much so--certainly not orders of magnitude but only a few times if you're lucky; when they do fail they're questionably much harder to recover data from; their long-term storage and reliability still remains unproven and they've still considerably less capacity (storage density per unit volume) than common garden variety hard disks. Furthermore, they've long term write-wear problems and major issues with security and encryption.

      Moreover, most advocates of SSDs don't quite know how they work, a fact played on by their marketers (who are very adept at marketing fads, novelties and not-quite-ready technologies). SSD storage is somewhat analogous to pushing your thumb into sponge rubber and hoping the imprint will stay there. It's even more worrying if your thumbs-down is the centre of a 9-square tic-tac-toe/noughts and crosses matrix and all other eight thumbs are simultaneously pushing up! (It's this 'spongy' cross-coupling effect which is the major limit on the capacity of SSDs. The issue's a bit like the walking-bit left/right pattern test problem.)

      The more one considers the facts the more attractive long-proven hard-disk technology still seems.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is "cloud storage" not disk based?

    And there I was, thinking that services offering massive amounts of free storage were enabled by just how cheap disk storage had become.

    On the enterprise-y angle, what backup guarantees does this "cloud" thing give you?

    This may be just a dip in the graph, or it might signify the start of the decline. Either way, it's far too early to tell. Yes, we know that disk is very likely on the way out, but whether it's five, ten, or twenty years, I don't know yet.

    If you're looking for a sign on the wall, you might recall one we've passed years ago: That was the NSA buying up insane amounts of flash to beef up their database indices, so as to run their surveillance databases better. It put flash on the map and helped kickstart the price drops.

    As an admin I'd be leery of going all-flash because of wear patterns and such. For disk this is well-understood and reasonably predictable. For flash drives that add layers and layers of voodoo to hide what's going on, less so. For now it may be cheaper to add a few more sticks of RAM to the NAS and stick another hot spare in the RAID. Even if the front goes all flash, the back might transition from tape to disk; flash is still too expensive for that.

    And, of course, the more electronic devices we have the more data they generate and the more that needs to be stored. So you have the biggest flash card money can buy in your phone and your camera and your video pod and whatever other gatgets you have. That needs backup, which likely means disk, possibly external, instead of another flash card.

    And then there's details like how flash vs disk is not a one-to-one relationship, the economy is still unhealthy, and so on, and so forth. I think this now will more likely be a dip rather than the start of the great decline.

    Of course, rational analysis had never prevented wall street to get their panties in a twist.

  4. zebthecat


    Would you entrust all your confidential details to the cloud?

    Thought not.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Cloud

      Maybe you are like me and have your own personal Exchange server sitting under your desk, but most people use a webmail service for email which is essentially a cloud offering.

      So the answer is, I don't entrust my confidential details to the cloud, but a lot of people do.

  5. YumDogfood

    The HDD is doomed, doomed I say!

    Teh internets data is all in a mercury delay line going around the planets equator. Its why they won't give out any of the precious silvery fluid to museums.

    /coat, but only after I finish my Friday pint.

  6. Marcus 8

    Most people trust cloud for privacy already

    Just look at banking, all your moneies in a cloud. Just a different cloud :) They don't have it as a large pot of gold in some mountain.... or under a rainbow.

    But look at other services, like Gmail, how many people store the emails to all sorts of personal stuff in there? Extremly private pictures, or messages between loved ones or password/verification emails to all sorts of services.

    To be honest, most people don't know what a HDD is.

    And people store files on their computer and not on their hdd....

    So why are sales going down?

    Laptop vendors putting in SSD's, memory stick capacities are huge and low cost.

    Many people now own a smart phone which can act as an external drive (16GB SDHC card in my android right now...).

    So all these factors are of course going to change the HDD market.

    And as somebody said, hdd proffits have gone down, no mention of actual volume...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've yet to be convinced by flash for anything except high end speed. I'd really like someone to produce some end-to-end energy usage stats for spinny disk vs flash as I'm not sure that I buy the less energy use argument. So far I have asked the technical account managers for my company at EMC, NetApp, HDS and HP, all of whom have promised to get numbers to me, then gone very quiet...

    1. Tom 13

      I think the battery usage numbers on the laptops prove out

      the energy savings potential. Whether or not that translates as energy savings for a corporate server environment is of course another issue.

      I think the earlier poster who listed his plans for his new array showed why disk usage is going down. For some things in the server environment, it is worth the premium for Flash drives. So those sales are going to Flash. For others it is high end SCSI or maybe SAS. And for low end work it is SATA. Where you have considerably more read than write activity, Flash makes tremendous sense, other places not so much. So enterprises are optimizing based on need. Total storage volume goes up, market share for HDD temporarily dips while the adjustment is made, then resumes a normal growth curve again. You also probably see more Flash growth than HDD growth because of portables. Might see more growth if corporate goes Flash on Desktop where 500G is probably overkill because data is stored on the LAN. But I think that's a tough sell because you're only talking about booting once a day.

  8. Rob Haswell


    Lol short answer - no. Flash is too small and cloud is too slow. Next question?

    1. Aaron Em

      Flash also can't be non-destructively written

      Every time you write a byte on a Flash chip, you bring it a tiny bit closer to death. Which is unfortunate when you've got things like swap files on it that might well be written more or less constantly.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        swap files on flash?

        "swap files on it that might well be written more or less constantly"

        If your machine is swapping more or less constantly, you've got bigger problems than flash lifetime. These days RAM is something like 20 quid per gig and there's no reason to even *have* a swap file for Windows.

        Linux appears to benefit from being /offered/ a small swap file, which it hardly uses. As far as I can tell, the difference is caused by the semantics of the fork() call. This shows up in the memory manager as a risk of huge over-commitment, which must be insured against even though in practice it never materialises.

        1. Tom 13

          He may mean generic swap, not OS swap.

          I seem to recall Photoshop and SAS have large swap files on disk. SAS in particular is a beastie because it writes temporary files all over the place depending on what it is running and how it is programmed. We had one guy who kept crashing his PC. One of the techs finally figured out that the way he'd written his SAS program caused it to use up all of the disk space on the PC.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Actually, size isn't necessary an issue, flash doesn't need to host everything, EMC VMAX (and other) arrays move the most accessed blocks to flash and keep the less accessed ones on SAS or even SATA. The amount of regularly used blocks are relatively few in many types of datastructures.

      The write wearing problem is pretty well dealt with by distributing writes all over the memory, rather than using a fixed part of memory for a fixed 'drive' location.

      It's still probably best to keep swap files on very fast spinny disk, though.


    SSDs are great perhaps for mere consumers.

    It's pretty easy to blow out the storage capacity of an SSD with out even trying.

    All you have to do is use those silly little apps like what comes with iLife. Get the least bit creative for awhile and you won't have room to store stuff on your SSDs anymore.

    Just basic home amateur stuff will easily do it.

    1. norman

      Blowing my own horn...

      I have an SSD caching the array; a 256 GB OCZ is my RAID cache, so my 4 TB RAID 5 acts as if it were a giant SSD.

  10. Rombizio

    It is 2011

    Where is my flying car?

    1. Yag

      still 4 years to go.

      Just a bit off topic are we?

  11. Nick Kew Bronze badge

    More than a disc

    If tablets and clouds are replacing PCs, then it's not just disc manufacturers who'll lose business. Remind me how much business Intel lost in their recent results?

    Yes of course PCs are no longer where the growth is. Doesn't mean they're dead, though.

  12. Combat Wombat

    Hmmm no

    Or it could be that people are buying less units.

    I bought 4Tb of storage a year ago, and I won't be updating or upgrading any time soon.

    It could be that we have hit the size plateau, where most people have enough space for what they need.

    I won't be moving anything to the cloud, I like my data where I can control it.

    What you will also see is the new push for data caps on internet links, killing off a lot of the cloud hype... especially for home users.

    1. Elmer Phud

      cost v's storage

      I was thinking the same thing.

      I remember buying a massive 40G hard drive that cost a fortune and now I can get 2Tb for the same price.

      Similar for laptop drives.

      Also you can shove more RAM in a machine nowadays which removes some of the need for virtual memory and the old pastime of checking the swap file size.

      (All those going on about clouds may have forgotten what's in front of them - sometimes it's easier to look in front of you instead of upwards :-) )

    2. Kevin Reader
      Thumb Up


      Thanks guys, saved me a lot of typing.

      Competition has pushed SATA drives below £50/TB. Assuming they make about the same margin on a drive then compared to _just_ a few years ago the HDD manufacturers are selling 2 or 3 less drives for the same storage. So they've nuked their own profits until either those drives start to fail (outside of warranty) or demand increases (downloaded HD movies?, but for most that needs faster and uncapped broadband - so not likely).

      (oh, apparently it didn't).

  13. Anonymous Coward

    not yet ...

    Not until you can buy a 2TB SSD for £70 with MTBF figures better than HDD's then platters will be spinning for a while yet.

  14. Sureo

    Seagate profits

    Maybe their drop in profits has something to do with the 1TB HDD I have that failed and was replaced twice (so far) last year.

  15. simplifried

    Ascending Flash Memory and the death of the hard drive

    Let me start with a quote that I think is accurate:

    "We have taken a look at and in fact shipped product into the SSD, in the client environment, and we do not find a compelling value proposition there either for manufacturer or for customer because the economics do not work. The cost of the storage/performance is too high," said John Coyne, chief executive officer of Western Digital, during the most recent conference call with financial analysts.

    One problem in this discussion is that so many believe that, as the title I've used seems to suggest, the flash to disk relationship is a sine qua non. This has been, effectively, the baseline of argument on the subject since the c.e.o. of Samsung announced the death of the hard drive during a speech given in the fall of 2007. The problem is that the proposition (that one is decidedly the cause of the other) is, in fact, a non sequitur. One has to consider much before you can claim to understand how these two technologies will relate to each other in the face of ongoing and overwhelming demand for storage. For example, which applications are we going to highlight to prove our respective case (regardless of which side of the debate you are on).? Anything less than all applications, including compute, and non-compute, will likely not give us the full picture. Can anyone say for sure what new applications lie in wait, and what storage requirements will they create? The truth is that we are allowing the thirty year old PC model to be our paradigm to extrapolate usage patterns and make predictions that in fact are missing most of the pieces of the puzzle. i.e. applications and architectures not yet in use. In the meantime, the non sequitur makes a good headline, and stirs debate, much of it facetious, some of it dissembling, most of it illogical.

  16. DeltaDude


    The MTBF on an Intel SSD is over 1,000,000 hours. That's in excess of 114 years. Somehow I don't think anything mechanical, operating continuously, is going to last that long. That's why I use SSDs for high-reli applications.

  17. A B 3

    @Amaross Danan

    Although clueless they may have a family member that advises them what to buy. Even the clueless end of the market will be picking up bargain bin 120GB external drives.

    The only answer is temporary saturation. People will be waiting for the next upgrade level... which may be SSDs if mechanical HDDs don't get any faster.

    I'm gonna call, slow decline to a niche product for mechanical HDDs.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On The Other Hand

    Maybe it's just a result of being able to buy 1 and 2 TB drives cheaply. You can get so much excess storage for your money these days that you buy extra storage less often.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Well, eventually.

    Cloud computing is just a fad and will decline when people realise that not controlling your own data and putting it in their single point of failure is a bad idea and the recession ends, but even cloud computing uses HDDs/SSDs (actually, more than the equivalent capacity in desktops due to use of RAID). SSDs are still pathetic in terms of storage and value, and will be for at least another few years.

  20. Jemma

    umm... there is something to this methinks...

    I have two laptops at home - one running windows 7 and the other ubuntu 10.x.x. They both have hard drives surprisingly enough..

    I spend more time now using the net from my X10 Mini Pro than I do the laptops and its a rare thing that I pick either of the laptops up until I need to do something like writing or printing a letter - and to be honest, with a little fiddling the phone could probably do that too.

    The phone uses solid state memory (up to 32GB) so it doesnt use a hard drive - which I therefore wont buy, either directly or as a part of the unit concerned...

    As to the Cloud - NO THANKS - there is no fscking way I am putting personal information on someone elses servers - not ever. Not my ideas, not my letters, nothing. True, I cant stop google and the like creating metadata and holding search data and the like, but I left a$$book because the privacy thing there was a joke, and I dont feel like keeping in contact with people I hated 20 years ago, because I will probably hate them now just as much...

    There will always be a market for personal storage - always - because anyone with half an ounce of sense wants to keep their private data private - and the only way to do that is private personal storage...

    And thats not even bringing in the subject of data backup...

    If the big HDD companies dont get their act together and start creating their own flash/SSD foundaries and the like (assuming there is still time) they will end up following the formats they made their money on into the dim and distant past...

  21. rototype
    Paris Hilton

    Anyone missed the obvious here, but...

    ...with the global economic meltdown continuing, people and organisations are tightening their collective belts and being a little more conservetive with their storege requirements - why add another couple of dozen expensive drives and racks and UPSs and power requirements to suit, when we can clear off the xxxGBs of cr*p that REALLY don't need to be kept (employees copies of their facebook pages/ipod backups/holiday photo albums etc... - I'm not even going to go into Golf scoresheets/parish council meeting minutes or football fixture lists and everything else that should never have been there in the first place).


    I suspect that if all organisations removed all un-necesary data from theor servers they'd probably halve their data storege requirements, and quite possibly put the Hard disk manufacturers into the receiversip courts in a flash (pun intended...)

    Also - many companies that are outsourcing their services are argueing WHO pays for the storage these days, depending upon WHOSE employees are using it (not necessarily WHOSE data it actually IS) - this leads to servers that are constantly out of space so the users are storing more data locally (amazing how many Word documents you can squeeze on a 80GB HD with XP......

    Possibly we are now beginning to see users beginning to use storage a bit more wisely (we can only hope) - My latest laptop ONLY has a 60GB HDD (yes, it was second user, it was the model I wanted and it's working very nicely Thank You - on Win 7 Ultimate, so it's not a 486 before you ask) - I have all the data stored on my desktop/tower at home that has the usual cheap high capacity drives in it, plus an external USB/ESATA drive to back it all up - I gave up on tape drives when it became cheaper to buy USB drives than data tapes... When I think I'm going to need that data I download it to the laptop and when I no longer want/need to carry it around with me I re-upload it to the desktop and back it up. Isn't this the way everyone should do it?

    As for keeping data on the 'Cloud' - I agree with previous posters thet except for data that you EXPRESSLY WANT to share with the world and their siblings, KEEP IT AT HOME, SECURELY LOCKED AWAY!


    Paris Icon, 'cos sometimes I think the whole world has her mental capacity......

  22. trottel

    Spinning Down? - I certainlyy hope so.

    Cmon... i understand that reg-commentaristas are a conservative tribe, but - deep in your geek soul - you know you want SSD or something else without moving parts. Star Trek did not have HDDs, iirc?

    Well, on second thought... maybe tablets should have legs, so they can follow you around the house, so you can call them from the sofa, if you forgot them lying on the bed? Hm...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      You're getting it all wrong

      I don't particularly care about whether my data is on HDDs or SSDs (other than the horrific price and capacity problems SSDs have) as long as *I* control it and have those drives in my PC next to me and my data isn't sitting on a server in fuck-knows-where.

      THIS is why I use HDDs because to store all my data on SSD I would need to COMPLETELY fill a case with thousands and thousands of pounds worth of SSDs and probably add another PSU for them all, as opposed to a few hundred quid's worth of HDDs that fit nicely into 4 bays. I will probably get an SSD when prices and capacity are actually reasonable and move my games onto that - but I don't see a move to SSDs for data until SSDs can do at least 1TB per drive, and probably more than that due to the fact that storage requirements grow over time as well as capacities. I WOULD like SSDs in the end, but spending thousand of pounds to RAID 10 or so current SSDs together to fit my data on is both ridiculous and unaffordable.

  23. Glen Turner 666

    Flash sooner rather than later

    Flash doesn't need to be as cheap as hard disks to be competitive. Hard disks failure rates are very sensitive to heat. A computer room with flash units can be run hotter. So the power savings from running less cooling will justify a move to SDD before the price of SDD suggests it is competitive.

    Enterprise storage usage is odd. Even a big database is small in GB but most of what an enterprise stores now is best viewed as "misc". So you're going to see those databases move to flash and the demand for disk change from small, fast, power-hungry units to large, slow, cheap to run units. Even there the disk won't win in the long run, since SDD can be totally powered down without a big restart penalty in access speed or storage lifetime.

  24. K

    "tablet sales are sucking away demand from PCs"

    Thats BS if I've ever heard it, the mainstream tablet thus far in the iPad - as somebody who deal with people in the industry ever day, I'm yet to find anybody who had a tablet!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Probably just waiting for the next generation.

      As experience shows, the first generation of a new popular form factor leaves a few holes. In this case, the iPad doesn't read well in daylight and hasn't got the best working life in the world. I'm pretty sure they're waiting for the second generation of tablets with Mirasol/electrowetting/other form of quick-refresh color e-Ink displays which make them more daylight-readable and easier on the battery when they're not being pushed.

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