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How Solid is Hard Disk's Future?

"Spellerbyte's ScryWareTM utility
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August 1, 2007 - by Zsolt Kerekes editor of STORAGEsearch
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What impact will the fast growing solid state disk market have on the overall hard disk market? - is a question I've been asked a lot recently. Most of the articles published here on are written from the SSD perspective. Is SSDs' gain really HDs' loss? - In some segments yes. But it's not a zero sum game.

To begin with, I'd like you to think about the image of a hard disk as a "tape on a plate".

That's not a very flattering image - but it gives you a clear picture of the roots and limitations of hard disks (magnetic media spinning around on plates - called platters or disks) and the image holds good for the long term future of hard disks too...

2006 was the 50th anniversary of the first hard disk drive and I remember wondering at the time whether the industry would actually survive long enough to reach 60. I returned to that question recently when some readers asked me what the impact of solid state disks would be on the hard drive market?

There are a lot of arguments to suggest that SSDs will replace HDs in many applications - but on the other hand - the hard disk industry is still looking healthy - and there are many new applications for hard drives.

So what is the effect going to be?

It's complicated. And the more I look - the more complicated it gets.
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What's the best / cheapest - PC SSD?
Editor:- I often get emails from readers which ask the above question.

An article on - called What's the best / cheapest PC SSD? - is my attempt to create a simple FAQs page - which answers the question...
click to read this article ...of why I can't answer your question - and follows on to pose some probing questions which you can ask yourself. the article
SSDs - the big picture
Editor:- was the world's 1st publication to provide continuous editorial coverage and analysis of SSDs (in 1998) and in the 12 years which have followed we've led the market through many interesting and confusing times.
click to read the story about why SSDs are taking up so much time on so many web pages If you often find yourself explaining to your VC, lawyer or non technical BBQ guests why you spend so much time immersed in SSD web pages - and need a single, simple, non very technical reference to suggest - this may be the link they need.
"One petabyte of enterprise SSD could replace 10 to 50 petabytes of raw HDD storage in the enterprise - and still run all the apps faster and at lower cost."
meet Ken and the SSD event horizon
It's easier to predict the winners in narrow segments within the HD vs SSD market - than the impact of SSDs on HDs as a whole.

Here's a sanity check....

The 2 biggest HD oems - Seagate and Western Digital collectively reported nearly $17 billion of HD revenue for the 12 months ending Summer 2007. That revenue was $3 billion more than their combined HD revenue the year before. That $3 billion growth is itself bigger than the size of the SSD market this year...

So even though the SSD market is growing fast (approximately doubling in revenue for the forseeable future) it is not going to slam the brakes on growth in the hard disk market.

Replacement of HDs by SSDs has a vastly different triggering point for the 4 main markets analyzed in my SSD market penetration model.

For example - in the server acceleration market the factor is - SSD cost versus additional server costs - and is completely unrelated to hard disk cost. If we accept the results from that forecast the impact of SSDs could halve the number of servers needed long term. That would hit server shipments but is unlikely to impact high capacity (terabyte up) hard disks. That's because the number of hard disks you need for bulk data storage (and backup) in enterprise storage networks is related to data growth and not server numbers. In this scenario SSDs and HDs can coexist - and both markets can grow at the same time.

It's a different matter in other markets - like notebooks - where SSDs and HDs will compete head to head for the same slots.

Predicting the price vs capacity points at which users will switch is fraught with difficulties. My own view is that some important users (like corporates) will switch at a price difference which could be more like 3 to 1 rather than the parity level reported by many buying intention surveys. That's because hard disks have a higher cost of ownership which comes from their intrinsic unreliability compared to SSDs. These higher HD costs such as the wasted capacity needed to support RAID and the management costs of backup are not much concern to consumers who are more interested in purchase price.

Overall I predict HDs will only survive in applications where the average size of disk installed is an order of magnitude above the most commonly available shipped SSD.

That means desktop entertainment PCs are safe for HDs. But most corporate notebooks are likely to switch. On the other hand consumer notebooks - which have to meet entertainment needs (play tunes and movies) will hang on as a HD market.


In the medium term:- (upto 4 years) - I see no reason why overall hard disk revenue should decline - because new HD applications will grow faster than the nibbling away by solid state disk substitution. Also optical storage solutions are unlikely to have enough capacity to displace BIG hard disks. The eventual size of the SSD market does not have a glass ceiling set by the HD market.

In the long term:- (5 to 10 years) the venerable "tape on a plate" will eventually retire to be replaced by the upstart flash in the pan. But 60 years is a good stretch for any computer technology. Early retirement is not in the current life plan.

For more related articles take a look at these resources
  • 2010 - 1st Fizz in the SSD Bubble? - even the dogs in the street know this is going to be a multibillion dollar market. Greed will play as big a part as technology in shaping the SSD year ahead.
  • Solid State Disks - is our directory of SSD manufacturers, and includes current news stories related to the SSD market
  • SSD market adoption model - why users will buy SSDs. This classic article describes the main applications which account for nearly all SSDs used, and gives the user value propositions explaining why SSDs are taking over in these applications.
Could Terabyte hard drives be given away free?
They may be expensive now...

... but I think giving terabyte hard drives away free could one day be a really good business strategy to prolong the life of the HDD market and to deal with what will be unbeatable price / performance challenges posed by SSDs.
click to read this article about free terabyte HDDs Wonder why the HDD give-away will be such a great idea?... the article