back to article NAND that's that... Flash chip industry worth twice disk drive biz

The flash industry is worth more than twice the disk drive industry in terms of product ship revenues. Trends suggest a shrinking disk drive industry will squeeze the three drive manufacturers, leaving Seagate with no escape. Storage sector analyst Aaron Rakers has run supplier numbers through his spreadsheets and reckons the …

  1. WolfFan

    Put bluntly, disk drives are going to be a crap commodity business stuck between SSDs (faster) and tape (cheaper). The disk drive industry, as a major storage media player, is heading towards a head crash and Seagate has no escape strategy.

    Err... the big problem with SSDs is, simply, the price per gigabyte. Unless and until that price falls considerably, there will be a lot of spinning drives sold, because some people simply require lots of storage. At my location we have multiple 4 TB spinning drives in our arrays, soon to be replaced by 8 or 10 or 12 TB spinning drives. Why spinning drives? We need to store tens of TB of data for ourselves and our customers. 1 TB of spinning drive costs $50 or less; 1 TB of SSD costs $300 or more. We cannot afford to replace our current spinning rust with SSDs, much less add storage. The customers are not going to pay 6x current costs for storage. They simply aren't. It will not happen.

    Now, if the price fell significantly (to, say, 2x the price of spinning rust) and we could get affordable Internet connections fast enough that the customers would notice the speed increase, then we could justify it. Problem: the price of spinning rust keeps falling. Not so long ago it was $100 for 1 TB, and not long before that it was $200 for 1 TB. Only a few years ago it was hundreds of dollars for a fraction of a TB. SSD prices are aiming at a moving target. Back in the early-mid 1990s I paid $1000 for a 1 GB drive; I'd have killed for 1 TB at only $300. But that was then, this is now.

    Wake me when the price of 1 TB of SSD gets to within shouting distance of 2x that of 1 TB of spinning rust. It will happen, just not soon. Until then, spinning rust still lives.

    My personal systems at home include a machine with a 1 TB SSD, but all the other systems have spinning rust, SSDs just cost too much. They are a major reason why the new, oh-so-thin, laptops from Apple and Microsoft and others cost so much and have so little storage. Those who like SSDs say that 128 GB or 256 GB is perfectly adequate, just stick your data on external drives, or on the cloud, or somewhere, anywhere, except on your hardware. Except that sooner or later you will need storage for your data. I have well over 500 GB of music, collected since the late 1980s, some of which never was released on CD, on my personal system at home. I have terabytes of movies and tv (no, not porn...) some of which was not released on DVD or if it was, was released at truly outrageous prices. They're sitting on my network along with lots of other odds and ends, and I simply wouldn't have space if I had to use SSDs. At the office we have data which is accessed perhaps once a year, if that... but when we need it, we need it right bloody now, there's no time to hunt down the backup tape (assuming that it wasn't sent off to Iron Mountain for storage) and restore the file(s), so we keep it on the system... which means that we have a lot of stuff on the system which we access rarely. We couldn't afford that with SSDs. We couldn't afford that with spinning rust, either, until the price came down; then we put stuff on tape and put up with delays. Now we don't have to. We see no reason to go back to the bad old days, and spend vast amounts to do it, just because SSDs are fashionable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      All new technologies are always expensive initially

      It was the same during the transition from CD to DVD, or from dialup to ADSL/Cable, or CRT to LCD monitors. Or when it comes to hard disks: pATA to sATA.

      The price of SSDs will come down. Mechanical hard drives will continue to dwindle in numbers until a new generation of children will grow up and almost not seeing one in their daily lives.

      Seagate? It's drives used to be excellent (made in Singapore), the gold standard. Then manufacturing moved to China, and there's been some problems. Seagate changed its logo several times since then.

  2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "Wake me when the price of 1 TB of SSD gets to within shouting distance of 2x that of 1 TB of spinning rust. It will happen, just not soon."

    I doubt whether there is any serious disagreement between you and the article's author. It all depends on what you mean by "soon". If I am an end-user, then "soon" might be a few months. If I am an investor, "soon" might be a few years.

    If I am me, and talking purely about my personal purchases, then I may already have bought my last platter of spinning rust.

    1. Charles 9

      And it doesn't take consumer backup needs into consideration, as tape at this stage is only economical at relatively large scale, meaning it's only suitable for enterprises. Which is why most tape drives expect server-class interfaces like SAS or FC. At the consumer end, the key metric is price against capacity, and here rust is still the winner. It's also still manageable if maintained on a semi-regular basis, say with at least a mirror and periodic rotation and replacement, with perhaps error coding added in to deal with the occasional bit rot. I wish there was a better solution to archive packrat activities, but tape got priced out of the consumer market a decade or two ago. So for now it's USB rust drives for me.

  3. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "The only way for the disk drive vendors to lower their cost/bit and preserve a price gap is to increase areal density by adopting shingled (slower write-performing media) and HAMR (Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording) and so drive to 20-30TB drives"

    Except that SSD is likely to beat them to it.

    WRT price, the driving factor at the moment is availability. Demand is outstripping supply and fabs are being built to try and play catchup. Unlike spinning rust, there are multiple fabs churning out NAND.

    (In the HDD world, there is only one maker of heads and one maker of platters. It's been like that since around 2002. Seagate and WD buy the same parts and use their own secret sauce to build a drive around those ingredients - but it means that where one goes the other will be in lockstep as large shingled platters and HAMR will arrive at the same time for both)

    Spinning rust prices have been fairly static for a long time. Pre-2011 Thai floods I was paying less than $80 for 2TB with a five year warranty. Prices have only _just_ returned to that level with only 1 or 3 year warranties.

    Yes there will be consolidation in the market. There already has been, but what we won't see is the return of the DRAMurai cartel dictating prices (mainly because the chinese market regulators won't tolerate it)

    1. Charles 9

      No one's arguing SSD will eventually supplant rust. The question is when. Like you said, new flash foundries are going up, but they're not online yet. Plus although there's essentially only one set of rust suppliers, it's well-experienced, mature, and established, meaning the incumbency and economies of scale factors are in play. And as any politician knows, it's very difficult to unseat an incumbent, especially a popular one.

  4. portyman

    Rebuild times

    Main issue is rebuild times as hard drives get larger, 10tb takes long enough, never mind larger. Once SSD price for 10tb has got to the same price as hard drives, then game over. SSD is also more suited for de-dupe so it can store more if data can be de-duped.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Rebuild times

      I have 32TB at home. Rebuild takes about a day on an idle system (ZFS) and up to 3 days if busy.

      dedupe is limited by ram, not drive speed. (it's a 2^n-1 problem, not linear scaling)

  5. chrismevans

    Rising Development costs, commodity prices

    One of the issues for the HDD industry is the cost of individual drives, now commodity, set against the cost of research. Bringing HAMR and other techniques to products is no doubt expensive, but unit cost of a drive is roughly it was 3/4/5 years ago. How can the HDD vendors survive if they can make no money from their products?

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