Difficult to Find any Sparks of Interest or Innovation in HDDs Anymore

In early November DCIG finalized its research into all-flash arrays and, in the coming weeks and months, will be announcing its rankings in its various Buyer’s Guide Editions as well as in its new All-flash Array Product Ranking Bulletins. It as DCIG prepares to release its all-flash array rankings that we also find ourselves remarking just how quickly interest in HDD-based arrays has declined just this year alone. While we are not ready to declare HDDs dead by any stretch, finding any sparks that represents interest or innovation in hard disk drives (HDDs) is getting increasingly difficult.
The rapid declining of interest in HDDs over the last 18 months, and certainly the last six months, is stunning. When flash first came started gaining market acceptance in enterprise storage arrays around 2010, there was certainly speculation that flash could replace HDDs. But the disparity in price per GB between disk and flash was great at the time and forecast to remain that way for many years. As such, I saw no viable path for flash to replace disk in the near term.
Fast forward to late 2016 and flash’s drop in price per GB coupled with the introduction of technologies such as compression and deduplication in enterprise storage arrays has brought its price down to where it now approaches HDDs. Then factor in the reduced power and heating costs, flash’s increased life span (5 years or longer in many cases,) the improved performance and intangibles such as the elimination of noise in data centers, and suddenly the feasibility of all-flash data centers does not seem so far-fetched.
Some vendors are even working behind the scenes to make the case for flash even more compelling. They plan to eliminate the upfront capital costs associated with deploying flash and are instead working on flash deployments that charge monthly based on how much capacity your organization uses.
Recent statistics support this rapid adoption. Trendfocus announced that it found a 101% quarter over quarter increase in the number of enterprise PCIe units shipped, the capacity for all shipped SSDs approaching 14 exabytes,  and the total number of SATA and SAS SSDs shipped topped 4 million units. Those numbers coupled with CEOs from providers such as Kaminario (link) and Nimbus Data (link) both publicly saying that the list prices for flash for their all-flash units have dropped below the $1/Gb price point and it is no wonder that flash is dousing any sparks of interest that companies have in buying HDDs or that vendors have in innovating in HDD technology.
Is DCIG declaring disk dead? Absolutely not. In talking with providers of integrated and hybrid cloud backup appliances, deduplicating backup appliances, and archiving appliances, they still cannot yet justify replacing HDDs with flash. Or at least not yet.
One backup appliance provider tells me his company watches the prices of flash like a hawk and re-evaluates the price of flash versus HDDs about every six months to see if it makes sense to replace HDDs with flash. The threshold that makes it compelling for his company to use flash in lieu of HDDs has not yet been crossed and may still be some time away.
While flash has certainly dropped in price even as it simultaneously increases in capacity, companies should not expect to store their archive and backup data on flash in the next few years. The recently announced Samsung 15.36TB SSD drive that is available for around $10,000 is ample proof of that. Despite its huge capacity, it still costs around 65 cents/GB as compared to the price/GB for 8TB HDDs which run around a nickel per GB – or about one tenth.
That said, circle the year 2020 as potential tipping point. That year, Samsung anticipates releasing a 100TB flash drive. If that flash drive stays at the same $10,000 price point, it will put flash within striking range of HDDs on a price per GB or make it so low in cost per GB that most shops will no longer care about the slight price differential between HDDs and flash. That price point coupled with flash’s lower operating costs and longer life may finally put out whatever sparks of interest or innovation are left in HDDs.


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