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Seagate's flawed analysis of SSD market size constraints


Editor:- January 24, 2011 - Seagate has published a point of view document (pdf) which apparently shows that the role of hard disks is unassailable in the notebook market - no matter what happens in the next few years with SSDs.

The analysis in their document suggests there simply isn't enough flash memory capacity to hurt their hard drive business - and that creating the additional flash capacity required - with current market prices - would be economic suicide for any SSD maker rash enough to try.

Seagate's article steers the reader towards thinking that the SSD market has a revenue ceiling which is determined by the economics of the notebook SSD market.

The reasons why users will buy SSDs - and their related value propositions were published in a classic article by in 2005. That SSD market adoption model (and its previous 2003 edition) helped many SSD companies understand the potentially huge market size which SSDs could achieve in the 5 to 7 years ahead period - and it still provides the best explanation of what is happening in the SSD market now. has always said - that it's the enterprise server market which is the biggest opportunity for SSD revenue - out of all the main markets which use SSDs.

In the enterprise market SSD companies can leverage the raw costs of their flash chips by more than an order of magnitude compared to the prices they can charge for similar capacity consumer SSDs.

Therefore Seagate's inference that the glass ceiling for flash SSD economics is set by notebook prices is absurd and misleading - by its sin of omission.

In other respects - Seagate's positioning paper says very much the same as I did in a 2007 article called - How Solid is Hard Disk's Future?

But a lot of people - especially investors - may get the impression from reading Seagate's view paper - that the hard disk market is unassailable by SSDs. It's not what the paper says. It is what it implies.

If you ignore the enterprise server market - and the effect that SSDs are already having on that - and the huge disruption that SSDs will have on the enterprise market in the future - then you probably shouldn't risk your money money in high tech stocks - but find another market that's easier to follow - like sweetened fizzy water instead.

When it comes to the consumer storage market - I did say that hard disks would continue to be around for a very long time. But I also said that one day they would be almost given away free.

And when it come to the long term future of the datacenter - in my Petabyte SSD roadmap article I explained the business reasons why - even if enterprise hard disk were free - users would still buy SSDs and choose to migrate to a 100% solid state market by 2020.

I also predicted that 2011 (this year) would probably represent the peak historic revenue year in the hard disk market. -But also I said I expected total HDD revenue to drop away rapidly after 2011 and halve by 2016.

SSDs are the most complex electronic devices in the world today. And there is much disagreement within the SSD industy itself about the best way to design SSDs and the best place to put them.

The SSD market is complex. It's not a single market but really a bunch of markets which have a shared technology heritage in memory and controllers. But the need to optimize SSDs for those diverse markets means they will get more dissimilar in the coming years.

Seagate has analyzed the economics for the least profitable part of the SSD market - notebooks - and extrapolated that the SSD market is going to stay small and not much of a threat to its hard disk business. It's not the first time Seagate has said something to undermine confidence in SSDs. It's part of a pattern which I wrote about in my 2008 article - Why Seagate will fail the SSD Challenge.

Do I still think they will fail the SSD challenge now?

I discuss the complexities of the SSD market with focused key players nearly every day. The business challenges are hard enough to solve for SSD's true believers.
hard disk drives Can a company like Seagate - who doesn't even believe in the final destination find the right road through the SSD maze? You can answer that one yourself.
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