Seagate to avoid solid-state drives for now

Chief executive Bill Watkins sees potential in flash memory and SSDs but says the economics do not yet add up

The chief executive of storage company Seagate said on Tuesday that, while flash memory and solid-state drives are becoming increasing popular, he does not see his company moving into the market in the immediate future.

However, Bill Watkins (pictured) said Seagate continues to work on ideas and has a solid-state drive (SSD) in development, but that this is just one of many ideas the company is working on.

Watkins' comments came on the same day that Seagate introduced a hard drive billed as "the world's fastest and greenest": the Savvio 15K.2 HDD. The 15,000-rpm drive is an addition to the Savvio family of 2.5-inch SAS 2.0 enterprise drives. The drive offers low power consumption and comes in capacities of 73GB and 146GB.

At a press event in London on Tuesday, Watkins said the company was happy with its progress in the main disk-drive market, with drives like the Savvio 15K.2 HDD on the way, and so was not going to get into flash technology in a substantial way at this time.

"There are only going to be two or three flash companies in the world, and people continue to buy NAND flash for more than the capital cost," Watkins said. "If you are looking at the companies in that market, they are paying about a dollar in capital for a dollar in revenue right now."

There are also issues around the controller, Watkins said, referring to the question of which companies control the technology. Seagate's interests are in getting control of the intellectual property around the controller, he said.

"It is critical to own and control the interface." Watkins said. He suggested that SSD technology, like flash in general, has tremendous potential but said organisations were just starting to understand how best to use it, and appreciate its limitations. SSDs do offer "tremendous performance", he added.

Watkins admitted that Seagate is developing its first SSD drive, but would not give any details. He outlined some of the limitations, saying that: "If you are trying to write it and read it, you don't get the performance in the write cycle."

Watkins said the home and hobbyist market would "pay anything for the performance". "The problem is that, for a 60GB drive, you are talking about $700 [£438] to $800. Maybe in 2012 you will get an 80GB solid state for $200. But, [with conventional technology], there will be a 500GB 2.5-inch drive for $50."

Watkins said Seagate would continue to avoid the problems faced by the world economy. Demand for storage in the home is forecast to rise by 80 to 120 exabytes this year, and in the professional market from 70 to 100 exabytes. The company said it believes it will ship 48 million drives in the first quarter of next year, having shipped 183 million in the whole of the last year.


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