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Will there ever be 20,000 RPM HDDs?

Pre-announcing the extinction of the high speed enterprise hard drive.


or - why zero RPM disks will beat 20K RPM hard disks in the high speed data center.


by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - February 2006

Sometimes making a projection from past trends gives you the wrong answer.

Number series play their part in this deception because we can sometimes see a pattern in numbers which falsely predicts what will come next.

Here's an example:- 1, 2, 4, 6, ...what comes next?

There are many ways you can continue this series.

And you may be thinking - "8".

But that's not my answer.

The example I had in mind was the historic development of the horse drawn stage-coach. And the series of numbers - 1, 2, 4, 6, .. is the number of horses which pulled your carraige.

As people became wealthier and demanded more comfort in their road transport - a "coach and 6" became a luxurious form of high speed travel which gave its name to many English pubs. As we know from our current vantage point - high speed road travel did not advance to the "coach and 12" but instead took a detour via the internal combustion engine and the motor car.

Here's another example:- 3,000, 4,200, 5,400, 7,200, 10,000, 15,000, ??

Most of you will easily recognise that adding the addendum "RPM - Revolutions Per Minute" to this sequence charts the increase in hard disk drive rotation speeds during the past 20 years.

Where is this going?

Well you may be sorely tempted to add a number like 20,000 to the end of this sequence. That would be a not unreasonable assumption. And I might have been tempted to do the same myself but a number of signals have steered me in a different direction.

A white paper by Fujitsu Trends in Enterprise Hard Disk Drives contains this observation "Ultrahigh-speed HDDs rotating at speeds exceeding 20 000 rpm have also been researched but not commercialized due to heat generation, power consumption, noise, vibration and other problems in characteristics, and a lack of long term reliability." (See also Squeak! - Green Storage )

Independent market research suggests that high end servers will standardise on on the 2.5 inch (and smaller) form factor - because this is easier to deploy in blade servers and high density server farms. And a recent report by IDC said that the fastest growing segment in the high end server market was servers from Sun which pack in more processors per U(nit) of rack space than competitors - and at a lower wattage per server than other vendors.

Combining these trends together suggests that what customers of big multi user servers would really like is faster disk drives - with lower power consumption. But that's just not possible with hard disk technology.

Enter the solid state disk. SSDs in the same form factor as 15K RPM hard drives are available in the same capacity and typically offer faster throughput and hundreds of times faster random IOPs - which is a better measure of how disk speed translates to server speed in most multi-user systems. (The exceptions are storage servers which have been optimised to deliver streaming video - in which the performance gap is much smaller.) The SSDs also use less power and are more reliable.
SSD ad - click for more info

Nevertheless it is a truth universally acknowledged that a 146GB 15K RPM drive from Seagate today costs an order of magnitude less than a similar form factor (but faster) SATA SSD with similar capacity from vendors listed in our Solid State Disks Buyers Guide.

That's where Microsoft's Vista and the new generation of hybrid flash-hard drives give us the vital clue about what is going to happen next.

True - this technology was originally designed for notebooks. But if the OS can recognize a solid state disk and cache frequently used files to the flash part of it - then migrating this clever OS to a server version is not a very big step. And fast SSDs are already available.

Now - whether the hard disk oems get around to designing high speed bybrid disks - or whether systems integrators find a quick and dirty solution - such as stuffing 1 SSD for every 4 HDDs in the same box first remains to be seen.

The latter - SSD cached HDD hybrid array solution - works in a server rack environment - and makes hybrid server disks extinct before they even appear in a Powerpoint product marketing plan. Sorry guys.

But here's a warning. If you do ever see a 20K RPM hard disk appear in a press release or catalog then give it a wide berth - unless you work for a computer museum. That's not the way the market will go.

.
"One petabyte of enterprise SSD could replace 10 to 50 petabytes of raw HDD storage in the enterprise - and still get all the apps running faster."
the enterprise SSD software event horizon

See also:-

After SSDs... What Next?
How will hard drives fare in an SSD world?
SSD Myths and Legends - "write endurance"
Can you trust flash SSD specs & benchmarks?
War of the Disks: Hard Disk Drives vs. Flash SSDs
Calling for an End to Unrealistic SSD vs HDD IOPS Comparisons

...Later:-


In September 2007 - Fusion-io launched the ioDrive - a PCIe form factor flash SSD with upto 640GB capacity and 100K IOPS performance. (In the years following that product - there emerged a multibillion dolar ecosystems in "server-side" SSD acceleration in which the talk was mostly about IOPS rather than "RPM". And in 2013 PCIe compatible SSDs in the M.2 form factor - with similar performance to that original ioDrive of 6 years before started to appear in consumer notebooks too.


In June 2008 - replying to a post in Gizmodo.com about rumors WD is working on a 20K rpm drive - their readers had some amusing and well informed comments.


in November 2008 - SanDisk proposed Virtual RPM as an alternative way of expressing R/W IOPS in flash SSDs.

see also editor mentions for -

4,200 RPM HDDs
5,400 RPM HDDs
7,200 RPM HDDs
10,000 RPM HDDs
15,000 RPM HDDs
.
SSD Pricing - where does all the money go?
SSDs are among the most expensive computer hardware products you will ever buy and comprehending the factors which determine SSD costs is often a confusing and irritating process...
Clarifying SSD Pricing - where does all the money go? - click to read the article ...which is not made any easier when market prices for apparently identical capacity SSDs can vary more than 100x to 1!

Why is that? ...read the article to find out
.

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Context from storage history
Seagate shipped the world's 1st
7,200 RPM HDDs in 1992, and
15,000 RPM HDDs in 2000.

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picture of ZD-XL - PCIe SSD accelerator from OCZ
HA integrated PCIe SSD based acceleration
with caching optimized for Microsoft SQL
the ZD-XL SQL Accelerator
from OCZ
.
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3.5" SSDs
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this way to the Petabyte SSD
RAM - based Solid State Disks
How Solid is Hard Disk's Future?
the Solid State Disks Buyers Guide
What's an SSD? / SSD Market History
.
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SSD's past phantom demons
The emerging size of the flash SSD market as you see it today was by no means inevitable.
It owes a lot to 3 competing storage media competitors which failed to evolve fast enough in the Darwinian jungle of the storage market. See what they were - and how often some of them have been at attempting a comeback in the article SSD's past phantom demons. SSD past phantom demons image - click to read the article


"...Unfortunately - there is no 20,000 RPM drive in our future."
... Claus Mikkelsen, Chief Scientist, Hitachi Data Systems, in his blog - Anyone Interested in a 105,000 RPM Drive? (June 2009)
.
announcing flash SSD storage with 10x to 30x the performance of 15K RPM hard drives
In 2007 EasyCo claimed
300,000 RPM equivalent
performance for arrays of
flash SSDs using their MFT
technology.

The tombstome sent a clear
message that hard drive RPM no
longer played any useful part in
high performance systems.

But in the datacenter SSD market
which came after - it was just as
important to classify different types
of SSD solutions
by their own relative
speed characteristics.


SSD ad - click for more info


Since the early 1970s there have been 3 revolutionary disruptive influences in the electronics and computing markets:-
  • the microprocessor,
  • the internet, and
  • the modern era of SSDs.
historic perspectives - on the SSD market