Are 30 years of disk price declines over?

Are 30 years of disk price declines over?

Summary: Backblaze, the online backup provider, reports on their experience with drive prices since the floods in Thailand in late 2011. Only this month have they seen prices return to 2011 levels. The question now: will they resume their downward movement?

TOPICS: Storage, Cloud

In a blog post released today Backblaze comments:

In September 2011, our cost per gigabyte was $0.044. That low water mark would not be achieved again until September 2013. In that two-year period, our cost ran as high as $0.064 per gigabyte. While $0.02 per gigabyte doesn’t seem like a lot, Backblaze added about 50 Petabytes of storage during that period. When you do the math, a $0.02 increase per gigabyte would translate to a $1M increase in storage costs, but that’s not the whole story…

Floods in Thailand knocked out about 25% of the industry's production capacity - largely from WD - and set off a mad scramble for drives. That forced prices up by almost 50% - if you could get drives at all - and led Backblaze on a merry hunt for more drives.

Here's how the pricing played out:

Courtesy Blackblaze


Just 5 years ago drives cost over 10¢/GB. In the early 80s large drives cost over $25,000/GB and small drives - early Seagates - were much more.

The Storage Bits take
Backblaze's bulk buys give them a broad statistical base. But by shopping for deals I've bought a couple of drives for 3¢/GB.

To Backblaze's larger question - are we at the end of the 30 year decline in disk prices - no, we're not. Instead we're seeing new storage devices enter market niches that will preclude easy comparisons of the kind made by Matthew Komorowski.

Hybrid drives - combining SSD and disk technology - will fall off the price curve. But they also fall off the flat IOPS - and declining IOPS/GB - curves as well. They'll dominate the performance end of what remains of the PC market after smartphone and tablets get through walloping it.

But we're not through with the standard disk drive yet. They may not be sold in as many PCs, but they are very popular with cloud providers, who buy millions.

That volume will keep prices declining, though at a slower pace than in the past. Drive vendors have some large investments to make in patterned media and heat-assisted magnetic recording, so I don't begrudge them taking a breather on relentlessly lower prices. 

Comments welcome, of course. If prices were 1¢/GB, how would that change your use of storage?

Topics: Storage, Cloud

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  • How about two related questions:


    1) For an AVERAGE non-techie user, what will be the MOST storage they'll need, excluding backups?

    2) For an AVERAGE TECH-ORIENTED user, what will be the most storage they'll need, excluding backups?

    These questions assume we won't see things like AVERAGE users (either group) storing mass amounts of uncompressed UHD video or RAW photos.

    Sooner or later there has to come a point where the average user simply won't need more storage space. Frankly, I think that has already been reached. How many folks would ever fill a 4TB drive?
    • A Lot of Techies Need the Space

      I will grant you the argument for non-techie users, but not for techie users. If we were using the same software from 20 years ago (like DOS), we wouldn't need 64-bit CPU's with 4GB of RAM. But people find new things to do with computers, and those new things need more powerful hardware. Right now, virtual machines and CGI are two things that were rare 10 years ago, but are quite popular today and both use a lot of disk space.
      • PS

        I haven't quite reached 4TB yet (more like 2TB) of media files, BUT being one of those who does like to have files stored permanently upon my own hardware, then yes I do need 4TB of storage and more in order to have a backup or two. Because, frankly, I'd hate to go through all the downloading again (assuming I could even find everything). There's lots of obsessive collectors out there (thank goodness a few external harddrives take up less space than bookshelves and boxes full of old books, magazines, etc).
    • I think "average user" storage needs are growing fast

      Why? Because average users are shooting tons of photos and videos on their smartphones. With only hazy ideas of how to edit and how much storage they're using, they keep everything.

      Recently installed a 1TB Momentus XT in a friend's Macbook as she had stuffed her 250GB drive so full the system had slowed down. She has no idea how much more capacity video uses than photos - and doesn't care. Wants to keep it all.

      R Harris
    • Lesson from the past - look to the future...

      Reminds me of back in the early 80's when Microsoft was saying "nobody will ever need more than 512 KB of RAM". How can anyone say how much storage people will need - especially when we don't know what kind of technology is just around the corner. I can see people wanting to store 3D virtual reality experiences on digital media in the highest resolution possible. Someday the terrabyte will seem like the kilobyte does today.
    • Likely, me

      If i consolidated all of my media storage (i'm not a media pro, either), i'd need a 4TB drive to hold it all.
    • With entertainment media increasing becoming centered

      around downloading or streaming data, I believe most people will feel an increased need for storage, whether it be to store thousands of books, photos, movies, comic book files, music, or whatever else. Of course people could stick with services like the cloud instead of resorting to physical storage. And there are sites that maintain files for periodic browsing or downloading of files for free (e.g. Comic Book Plus), or that allow you to subscribe in order to stream files, etc. But I think people will always enjoy having something more permanently available (giving them a sense of ownership and control), that is immediately available, and that doesn't require using more bandwidth than necessary. It seems wasteful, for example for someone obsessed with a particular movie has to download it or stream it repeatedly. And I think people will remain resistant against storing all their files (exclusively at any rate) on the cloud, particularly if it includes personal photos or videos or documents, or pirated material.
  • Stuff expands to the space allotted

    It's so much easier to download another TV show or update email, than it is to decide what (or take the time) to delete.
    • If left to my 78 year-old mother-in-law...

      The children of the Great Depression seem to have trouble disposing of anything if given a choice. Even if there is zilch chance see will ever again look at a pretty Photoshop'ed image that came with a multiple-forwarded message, she will emotionally have trouble deleting the email.
      Jim Johnson
  • How about two related questions:


    1) For an AVERAGE non-techie user, what will be the MOST storage they'll need, excluding backups?

    2) For an AVERAGE TECH-ORIENTED user, what will be the most storage they'll need, excluding backups?

    These questions assume we won't see things like AVERAGE users (either group) storing mass amounts of uncompressed UHD video or RAW photos.

    Sooner or later there has to come a point where the average user simply won't need more storage space. Frankly, I think that has already been reached. How many folks would ever fill a 4TB drive?
    • well lets see

      Camera phones and camers have megapixel ratings that continue to climb. Meanwhile we have generations more and more interested in using such tech... ergo, in the drives lifetime it will eventually fill up. its been speculated that the capacity of a human brain is 50tb, maybe ill backup my rememberance of how to do my math homework in a few years.

      I do think the time between the drive being installed until its full is increasing, but the more room you have the more ways you can think of to fill it. Hell, im going to start using mine as a dvr.
  • I hope not

    I really like to see wd 4TB drives hit the $150 range for my HTPC :)
  • Going the way of the CRT

    Rotating disks will be gone in all but cloud applications in just a few years. SSDs are used exclusively in phones and tablets and they are starting to dominate in laptops, the only place where rotating disks are still used is in desktops and servers. Progress in rotating disks has slowed to a crawl while SSDs are improving at a fairly fast clip. A terabyte SSD is just under $600 right now, that's still pricey in comparison to a rotating disk, but it's not out of reach. At normal Moores law rates we can expect a terabyte SSD to drop to $300 in 2015 and $150 by 2017. At that price no one but the cloud vendors will be buying rotating memory any more.
  • Spinning Rust Has Its Place...For Now

    The price per GB of storage will continue to fall over the long term. SSDs and SSD/HDD Hybrids are starting to gain popularity, and as their prices continue to decline, they'll become still more popular. But until solid-state drives' per-gigabyte prices are similar to spinning media, are available in the same capacities, and have similar or better reliability, there will be a place for spinning media. I wouldn't be surprised if in a decade, SSDs are standard PC equipment, while HDDs become a relic of a bygone era.

    BTW, I'm one of those non-average power users with a custom-built hyper powerful PC: Win7 Pro (64-bit), i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD C: drive, 2 x 2 TB HDDs, plus 4 x 2 TB HDDs (USB 3.0) for offline storage and backups. Within 3 years, at least a pair of my 2 TB external drives will be replaced with 4 TB.
  • Cost versus cost

    I don't take any joy in waiting for an inexpensive hard drive. I don't wait thinking how much money I saved. If there is this need to save money, don't buy anything. All this as opposed to a SSD that costs more but pays it back every time it runs.
    • if only all the idiots

      With credit cards and houses they cant afford, Took this advice....hell if the US GOVT took this advice, how much better would the world be. (Of course sometimes gov needs to spend to spur economy but..)
  • HDD crisis was a fake

    Shortly before, the fourth HDD vendor (Samsung) was bought. So there where only three HDD vendors left, and thus the oligopoly era could begin with the Thailand floodings. HDD crisis was just an excuse to sky rocket prices by these three vendors. Fact is, during the HDD crisis, these vendors sold more HDDs than ever before - there were no shortage of HDDs! They posted record profits during the "shortage" year. Read more on this market manipulation:
    • supply and demand

      I think more useful info would be how much stock is typically held and how much was cleared during the floods. Not to mention that most drives sold were probably sitting in warehouses before the flooding hit. Also if the prices had stayed low could supply have run out? Idk personally but its still worth asking.
  • 30 year chart

    The chart here is interesting. It's like putting a magnifying glass over the S&P chart in the second half of 1987. OMG, crash. Yet, the full year, with dividends, was actually positive. Now in hindsight, the stock chart shows 1987 to be a blip.
    First, the best charts for this purpose are semi-log. The price decline will be straight line reflecting the long trend of year on year decreases, (50% every two years, when measured as $/MB, etc?) and the recent issue will be a blip on that chart in 5-10 years. Unless there's a law of physics reason that's saying we're hitting the wall, I'm expecting the decline to continue as it was.
    To those asking how much storage we need - I remember buying a 170M drive thinking that would store all the docs I could ever create. Spreadsheets, and Text mostly. Then my 3GB drive for $300 was a bargain. Skip ahead to today. I backed up my TiVo which warned of overflow. A 2 hour HD concert fills 21GB. If I saved papers and magazines, I'd be a hoarder. But saving some video for 'someday' isn't so bad. I have about 3TB of saved TiVo crap, with no risk of fire or my floor collapsing.
    Skip ahead to 4K TV. Same hours of video would need 12TB storage. Video is the space hog. All the music, books, PDFs are not going to put the same dent in one's HD as will video. Just my opinion, of course. My Mac currently has 3TB OS/apps, 3TB Tivo backups, 3TB Timemachine backup of main drive, 2TB Test Drive (To run Mavericks now and then, but not always.) So 11TB. Which should last a few years.
  • RAW

    Shooting RAW with a 14MP camera easily eats up 10GB a day. If I wanted to carry a bigger camera I'd eat up about 100GB a day. After that you have all the intermediates and then the final file. You always keep the RAW files because the next version of your post processing software is going to be much better than the last one, right? This does not include any video shot which runs about 32GB per 20 minutes on my small camera.