Will flash EVER replace disk?

Will flash EVER replace disk?

Summary: How about never - is never good for you?As a long-time fan of flash (NAND) storage - and a flash notebook long-ago user - I've been repeatedly surprised at how the hype for flash drives and the reality have diverged (see Hybrid drives: not so fast, Flash drives: your mileage WILL vary, and Power, notebooks and solid state disk).

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How about never - is never good for you? As a long-time fan of flash (NAND) storage - and a flash notebook long-ago user - I've been repeatedly surprised at how the hype for flash drives and the reality have diverged (see Hybrid drives: not so fast, Flash drives: your mileage WILL vary, and Power, notebooks and solid state disk).

I bought into the hype initially, but as the hype and the facts have diverged, I've gone with the facts. Despite its well-known liberal bias, engaging with reality has its advantages. If only more people would.

Update: The "reality has a liberal bias" comment was a crib from Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, which I think is funny in a technology context because technology isn't "liberal" or "conservative," it just is. However, being "data-driven" is a new - ~400 years old - and "liberal" concept that many are still suspicious of, thus the humor in Colbert's remark. End update.

The (disk) empire strikes back I'm here at DISKCON 2007 USA in Silicon Valley. The tension between the disk folks and the flash folks has been the subject of some forced humor. If somebody announced the intention to take 25% of your income, how funny would YOU be?

The most outspoken disk defender is Rich Rutledge, SVP at Western Digital, the 2nd largest disk manufacturer. His argument, stripped to the essentials, is that flash will *never* deliver on the hype, because it can't. Rich's basic point is that most of flash's advantages are illusory:

  • Power: disks are pretty efficient, and today's notebooks have a lot of power-hogging systems (Wi-fi, Bluetooth, display, dual-core processors, GB of RAM and graphics co-processors) so the additional battery life that flash can deliver is less than 6%.
  • Boot times: cold boot not all that much faster - 8-10% - and the fastest boot times in Vista come from Vista's Sleep mode, which uses the battery to keep your data live in RAM, the fastest mass storage in your notebook.
  • Size & weight: important in handheld devices, but notebook size and weight are dominated by keyboard and screen requirements, not the extra grams of a disk drive. Flash in small ultra-light notebooks? Sure. In a 17" behemoth? Much less likely.
  • Performance: flash, is a top fuel unlimited dragster - fast in the quarter mile, but no good on curves. That is, the flash drive's massive advantage in small random read speed is lost in the real world where small random writes and large sequential reads and writes drown out the flash drive's one big performance advantage.

Why the hype? I want to believe that flash drives will be better. But since they aren't now, why the hype?

One of the flash presenters was surprisingly forthright. He said that the current flash-based consumer product sales are heavily weighted towards the holiday season. The several billion dollars a flash fab costs means keeping the fab running flat out is a very Good Thing. With the current product mix they can't.

What to do? New products that aren't seasonal.

The Storage Bits take Rich makes some good points, but I'm not ready to write flash off. Let's give the engineers a chance to do their magic. But I'm far from convinced that the flash vendors have the Mojo to pull off what they've promised. Enough hype, let's get some results.

Comments welcome, as always.

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • "EVER" is a long time

    Whether it will be called "flash", it is clear that some sort of solid state memory will eventually replace mechanical memory accessed systems. Hard disk manufacturers have done a great job improving their product, and the fight can be prolonged. But change is inevitable.
    jorjitop
  • reality has a liberal bias?

    "Despite its well-known liberal bias, engaging with reality has its advantages."

    Implying that the liberal viewpoint is backed by reality? That's almost as dumb as your "flash, is a top fuel unlimited dragster - fast in the quarter mile, but no good on curves." analogy.

    In fact, it's totally backwards (Just like your "reality is liberal" analogy is totally backwards- just ask all those Eastern Europeans emerging from the hell created by people who were just SURE that socialism (the liberal ideal) would bring eutopia.)

    Flash is lousy on the high speed straightaways (sequential reads). It's more like a highly agile little sports car that can zip around the city and take turns quickly, but would be left in the dust on the autobahn.
    Steve Summers
    • Well the big issue with flash is not the read speed...

      but the issue with writes and sequential write would be the worst without some from of cache. Since the flash device cant just write one byte of data, it must erase a block of data and then rewrite that block with the changed byte.
      mrOSX
      • Writing one byte

        "Since the flash device cant just write one byte of data, it must erase a block of data and then rewrite that block with the changed byte."

        Apart for the erase phase, doesn't that also describe the process used on disk?
        Larry the Security Guy
    • Socialisim? Liberal ideal?

      Well first of all I look at the Eastern European and ole Soviet Union more like
      Dictatorships than actual socialisim myself. Still I personally think that the best
      system is a mix. In many if not most cases TRUE capitalisim works just fine but
      only if it's TRUE capitalisim survival of the fitest at its finest where the consumer is
      KING and gets to choose to purchase a given product or not and in doing so
      makes his/her vote clearly heard. Now however is some cases like national
      defense and personally I would add Health Care socialisim is fine by me. Peoples
      well being their very lives should not be left up to capitalisim. First point when
      one's very life is at stake the consumers "CHOICE" is taken from them and all
      power is transfered to the drug dealer or medical industry in general once that
      happens all controls like competition and quality are thrown out the windows
      because the consumer is no longer KING but a begging peasant to the overloard.
      A surf to the MASTER. I can't see how capitalisim works and our current situation
      just proves my point. Not only are individuals crippled by our system but entire
      families. With each passing year more and more American industries find it
      impossible to offer health care as a benefit for work. Other industries find
      themselves sadled with an always increasing expense of health care which reduces
      their ability to compete on the world stage. It is strangling our very country and
      no one is not effected so yes some type of socialisim is needed in some cases.

      Pagan jim
      Laff
      • Socialist health care?

        We're getting WAY off topic, but I have to respond. The problem with health care is that the patients aren't the consumers- the insurance companies are. If we treated health care the way we treat car care, and used insurance only to pay for really expensive problems, and pulled out our credit cards for doctor visits and prescriptions (and asked our doctors if the $4/pill drug is REALLY better for us than the 30 cent/pill generic drug that the pretty drug company rep DIDN'T just give him samples of), then we would all be better off. Just ask yourself- what aspects of medical treatments ARE getting cheaper the service getting better and better for? Check out Lasix eye surgery, and pretty much all plastic surgery. When there's no insurance company involved, YOU are the customer- and that makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
        Steve Summers
        • I've heard that arguement before and in many ways

          I agree. However my individual problem is not that the pill costs me $4 per pill
          but at leas (3) of the monthly pills I take cost me $1200.00 per 30 day supple
          that's $1200.00 X 3 and that's not all the drugs I have too take being a diabetic
          with a transplanted kidney. I still say that when a consumer faces the ultimate
          quesion of LIFE vs do business with us on our terms that the consumer is no
          longer king but servile. That kind of power should mean some sort of regulation
          or government over sight for the better interest of it's citizens. On the other hand
          you make some very good arguements on getting rid of the FAT middleman and I
          can't see where in most cases that would be a bad thing. And yes we have strayed
          from the original topic here....:P

          Pagan jim
          Laff
        • Scary either way, Socialist is better here

          Insurance or pay out of your pocket is the same.

          Personally I don't like for profit medical at all. You mentioned car care. Well that's exactly what for profit is. You take your car in they try to up sell you on what needs to be fixed. The unscrupulous mechanic will make things to fix on your car to make more money. This is a real downward spiral too. As word get around few people go there and he has to make more money of dupes that go to him.

          I just personally think I'd rather be in publicly funded hospital that wants you healthy and out of the system than for profit hospital that would love to have you stay as long as your paying.

          I'm a fiscally right wing and believe in capitalism and that's exactly why I know for profit health care is bad bad bad. With my business hat on Health care is great for profits. People get sick and need care that's a fact of life and that's money, lots of money. Now as businessman I can't see immunizations against the common cold as good for business but if I can sell you a medicine that prolongs you symptoms while giving you relief from said symptoms, well then Chaching! (dollar signs in the eyes). As a capitalist I seem medical as gold mine. I mean the customer is happy with us keeping them alive and as long as I don't do my job too well the money will keep rolling in. That's how I actually think.

          Now I have to force myself to think what is best for society in general and my capitalist view are not best for society. While they are better than no medical medical that is not for profit would be so much better for society and that though makes me cringe a bit. Lost profits after all. But as human being and not capitalist can I support profits at the expense of the sick? I can't not after seeing family members die a slow painful death all while knowing that the cure is there but we can't have due because the cure is not profitable and drug companies have got it made illegal because it's natural cure. My capitalist thinking must take a back seat.
          voska
          • Uh Hello.

            You cannot rely on the government to take care of you. You just can't. And taking away a motivation for people to do what it takes to become the quality doctors we have in this country is a recipe for disaster.

            Transfer the control from the insurance companies and put the money back into the hands of the people, make them the customers, and watch the cost of everything come down once competition among the medical professionals is sparked since they will have to fight to keep their patients. A good capitalist concept.

            If you are thinking that Hilarycare is the answer, well you're as fracked up as Laff. There is room for government regulations but to put them in control of taking care of my "well being" is insane and will demonstrate perfectly that those that don't learn from history will be doomed to repeat it.
            People
          • Agreed.

            Anyone that thinks they want socaialized medicine should have a nice long look at Medicare and our welfare system. The reality is that govennment bureaucracies and coruption (at least in the US) will make any socialized system an ineficient nighmare.

            While our healthcare system has serious problems, anyone looking for a silver bullet like socialization should remember the words of H.L. Mencken: "For every complex problem problem there is a solution that is clear, simple... and wrong."
            slopoke
          • So why use failed examples?

            Governemt does some things pretty blank well. Take FEMA BEFORE the present
            administration it worked..... I'll grant you it takes competent people with some
            interest in running things well to do the job but I can't imagine that we again can't
            learn and do better for past mistakes. This whole "Government" is doomed to fail
            is well silly. We have a national grid, a large highway system, a national defense
            that in the right hands and at the right time in history were both efficient and
            amazing to the world around us. I'll grant you the current administration seems
            to have little interest in improving or running anything but that is a failure of
            ideoplogy not government.

            Also you can not escape this simple fact that Health Care is indeed as I stated and
            explained in my post below to People a horse of a different color. The same rules
            taht make capitalisim work for many an industry simply do not apply to a
            consumer who is in danger of death or living with pain. Those same rules do not
            apply when a loved one faces those same challenges. Out of pocket might give us
            some improvement in some areas but would be a disaster in others and that is
            why insurance came into being in the first place. When the rules change the
            solutions have to be different as well. The mark of insanity to to do the same
            thing over and over and expect different results. We tried out of pocket before the
            days of insurance That did not work and insurance came into being. That also
            proved to be faulty. Now we should try something else....simple logic.

            As for government just because a moron, a criminal, a corrupt man or woman, a
            person who has no interest in government, or a complete incompetent who thinks
            he's smart can't make something work does not mean it's the failure of the
            machine but rather the operator of said machine.

            Pagan jim
            Laff
          • Who says doctors are in charge

            [i]And taking away a motivation for people to do what it takes to become the quality doctors we have in this country is a recipe for disaster.[/i]

            Doctors aren't in charge. Businessmen are in charge. A business may be a doctor but it's their actions a businessmen that control things and the do so with profits in mind not your health. You're a captive customer. Your sick and you need medical aid. It's not like you can you can choose not to get medical care and live in many cases.

            This a recipe for business men to make decisions that will keep sick and dying a slow death while they treat you symptoms and keep you comfortable as you die. Personally I'd rather get healthy and I don't see getting healthy as profitable in a business sense. I know if I were in charge that I'd definitely not put resources to cure but to treating symptoms. There's just more money in it. Healthy people don't need medical, sick people do so why cut kill the cow when you keep milking it.

            Now as for government run and incentives well there are incentives. Government can pay well for starters. They can also fund schooling for Doctors. Right now there tons of potential doctors who don't look at money as reason to become a doctor. They look at money because they know the will be up to their ears in debt after 8 years of post secondary education. So now say government pays your tuition and they send you to work where you are needed as doctor upon graduation. You work for X number of years then you can apply to go where every you want. Sure you not make 7 figure income but you will be paid well. If the average wage is say $60,000 a year and you're paying a doctor $150,000 a year that's pretty good I think. This will also mean you will get more Doctors who are not in it for the money but because they have a real desire to help people. How can this be a disaster or lead to worse medical care?

            On top of all that you have non-profit organization which means all money coming into the medical system is used for the medical system. There is no need to siphon profits and any extra money gain through taxation goes back into the system.

            Here's the only real problem. Say I'm healthy and I'm paying a health tax I don't need health care now do I. But then say I don't drive, I don't need roads now do I. Say I don't have kids I don't need schools. Say we aren't at war no need for an army.

            The only thing that gets in the way of socialize health care working is politics. The same politics you get in privatized health care but people are more willing to ignore those politics if profits are rolling in.
            voska
          • If you don't understand that

            businesses are made up of people that work for those businesses, then there is
            nothing more to discuss.
            People
          • I don't know about you People but I work for me...

            and mine the actual business I happen to be employed by means little too me. I look
            at myself as a business onto myself or a sub contractor. So I am totally justified in
            my dealings with my employer as it the employer is justified in it's dealings with me.
            The exact same capitalistic rules apply. I am just as cut throat and bottom line in my
            thinking and dealings with my employer as any other business is and or should be.

            Pagan jim
            Laff
          • So do like France

            Let the patients choose their doctor and have the doctor bill the single payer. Now, we have doctors jumping through hoops for every insurance company. This makes the doctors very inefficient. In France, I could find a doctor to make house calls. They can't do that anymore in the US, because the doctor needs to be colocated with their clerks who have to fill out different forms for each insurer and see what that perticular insurer considers insured. Socialized medicine is demonstrably more efficient. I am all for free markets when they are the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources - and that is most of the time. But medicine simply isn't one of the cases where the free market, as least as approximated by the US, is more efficient. Pragmatism states that the US should adopt a single payer system, or at least a system that provides doctors with a single point of contact and simple consistent rules for standard care.
            shis-ka-bob
          • Socialized Medicine is a Siren.

            The quote below is from The Heritage Foundation:
            http://www.heritage.org/Research/HealthCare/hl856.cfm

            "in a system in which health services are free at the point of consumption, queuing
            is the most common form of rationing scarce medical resources. And since patient
            satisfaction plays no part in determining incomes or other economic rewards for
            health care providers and administrators in the public system, patients' time is
            treated as if it has no value. There are no penalties in the system for making
            people wait."
            People
      • Wow.

        You sir are all fracked up.
        People
        • I read both your posts and sorry but capitalisim is not

          the answer to everything. Why did insurance come into being in the first place I
          wonder if people paying out of pocket worked? I'm betting it did not in fact work
          as you say...that whole learning from history thing eh? Our defense is a kind of
          socialisim is it not? The simple fact of life is my, yours and your childrens health
          puts medical treatment including drugs to prevent DEATH or degeneration is a
          bargaining chip that no other industry has. I can go to a car dealer listen to the
          sales pitch and say no thank you and move on. I can even decide to walk to work
          if it's possible. However with medicine as an example of a car dealership I can
          walk into a dealership listen to a bored not very interested in me salesman tell me
          that the piece of junk car he want's to sell me for WAY more than I would even
          consider paying for a luxury model is all he'll offer me and if I say "No thank you"
          he pulls a large pistol from his desk points it at my skull and says "Buy or die"!
          End of negotiation. It's easy to say we the consumer without insurance will have
          the power we SHOULD but tell me when your little girl the daugher you would kill
          or die for is sick and in peril how hard are you going to negotiate? How firm will
          you stand? How fair will you care the deal be or will you sell your soul to the devil
          to get what your daughter needs? IN this case capitalisim can not give power to
          the people it's just a horse of a different color.

          Pagan jim
          Laff
          • Message has been deleted.

            Steve Summers
          • You know a lot of what you say makes sense too me...

            However you do leave out the unemployed. In a capitaistic society there has to be
            unemployed. Full employment is not possible or even wanted I think. So there
            will always be a certain amount of people with no pocket money nor insurance to
            take care of them. What of they? Also I still hold to what I consider a basic truth
            that the medical industry has an increadible advantage over all other industries.
            Our well lives and those of our loved ones. It is a sword that can be held firmly
            over each of our necks and that makes them unique. So there has to be controls
            of some sort to prevent that sword from not only being used but even being
            drawn. The threat is often enough. "IF" you can come up with a system that
            includes ALL wealthy, middle class, and dirt poor and all the sub classes
            inbetween plus blunts the sword to the point it is not a usable tool against we the
            consumer then I'm all for it.

            Pagan jim
            Laff