Hybrid drives go mainstream

Toshiba and Western Digital (WD) will join Seagate in producing hybrid - NAND flash + disk - drives. No dates or prices, but this is good news for customers and the drive industry.

Storage Newsletter reports that both companies said they would develop hybrid drives. Seagate's early bet on hybrids is paying off.

What is a hybrid? The only ones shipping today come from Seagate. There's a disk, some NAND flash - currently SLC, but that has to change - and some clever algorithms that figure out what data to cache.

The algorithms analyze disk traffic to figure out which data is 1) often requested and, 2) small. This data is cached in flash, where it noticeably speeds I/O performance.

I've played with 2 generations of the Seagate drive. While I'll never mistake it for the SSD in my MacBook Air, it definitely perks up performance on bootup and often used apps. If you want disk-like capacity and better performance, it's the way to go.

Why it works Flash is really good at small random reads - and disks are lousy. But disks are good at large reads and writes that are expensive for flash drives.

It's a match made in heaven, I/O-wise.

The Storage Bits take WD and Toshiba have no doubt done thorough competitive analyses of the the Seagate hybrids. So why wait until now to build them?

Some customer has clearly decided to go big with hybrids. Lenovo or HP, it doesn't matter, but the driving force is almost certainly Ultrabooks.

As vendors struggle to cut costs enough to put pricing daylight between them and Apple's MacBook Airs, it must have become clear that a drive + a separate flash cache didn't make sense for both space and cost reasons. It's just easier to build the cache into the disk.

Users get faster drives, PC vendors get to claim 16GB of flash - though few consumers will have any idea what that means - and drive vendors get to extend the life of disk technology.

What's not to like? Would you use a hybrid?

Comments welcome, of course. Seagate gave me review copies of 2 hybrid drives.