SSD adoption to grow, share space with HDDs

With Intel taking lead in pushing for solid-state drives, industry watchers foresee them complementing hard-disk drives in enterprise storage space.

The high cost of solid-state drives (SSDs) will mean this format will not be replacing hard-disk drives (HDDs) in the enterprise realm for at least the next few years, says analyst.

This is according to IDC's Jeff Janukowicz, research manager of hard-disk drive components and solid-state disk drives. He added that SSD manufacturers will have to find a way to utilize multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash to bring the cost per gigabyte (GB) lower in order to gain traction in the enterprise market.

However, the two technologies will have a "complementary", rather than competitive, relationship in the storage business anyway, he said in an email statement.

This sentiment is shared by Teh Ban Seng, vice president and managing director of sales and marketing, Seagate Asia-Pacific and Japan. "While SSDs and HDDs have different strengths in terms of efficiency… Seagate sees a market for both HDDs and SSDs--they will coexist," he said.

Teh also told ZDNet Asia he thinks demand for HDDs will not wane, noting that the technology has "performed well in over 50 years", and will continue to do so.

Even competitors such as Intel, which is pushing ahead with its NAND processing research and making SSDs more mainstream, believe SSDs and HDDs will coexist "for quite some time".

Bill Kircos, public relations representative for Intel, said: "HDDs will continue to play a role in enterprise for applications that require low-cost capacity and don't value the performance, power and reliability that SSDs offer as advantages."

Intel's SSD push
That said, SSD adoption in the enterprise space will increase, predicted Kircos. In an email interview, he acknowledged that while businesses are "rightly conservative" in adopting new technologies such as SSDs, people who have experienced the "very noticeable speed SSDs offer will want to deploy them". Plus, there are no moving parts, which improves reliability, he added.

EE Times, an online hardware news portal, reported earlier this month that Intel is looking to achieve "technology leadership" in NAND processing and "wants to be No. 1 in the SSD market".

The report quoted Tom Rampone, vice president and general manager of Intel's NAND Solutions Group, who said that in 2010, "[Intel] wants to bring SSDs out of the niche markets and into the mainstream''.

Kircos, when asked for an update on this announcement, said: "We're not going to comment specifically on the article other than to say we are doing everything we can to win with our SSD product line-up."

On Intel's strategy, IDC's Janukowicz said the chipmaker has made a lot of progress with its NAND flash technology in a very short period of time, particularly after its 2006 joint venture with Micron to form IM Flash Technologies--a NAND fab venture company.

He also said the SSD enterprise market will be better suited for Intel's strategy than in the consumer markets. This is because the "technology differentiation at both the NAND flash and controller level can create opportunities for Intel to deliver higher-capacity SSDs at attractive prices--and healthy product profit margins".

As for whether SSDs will ever be reliable and stable enough in terms of its read/write error rate and ability to retain data over a significant period, Seagate's Teh said "robust, resilient and true enterprise-class SSD products" are hard to find.

However, he pointed out that for certain markets, such as high-performance enterprise environments, SSDs have the potential to offer particularly compelling performance and power benefits.

"In the client arena, for example, applications that can get by with a small amount of storage, say 40GB, will become candidates for SSDs," Teh said. "For much larger capacities, the high price limits adoption to niche markets that are willing to pay a significant price premium over an HDD."

Janukowicz concurred, saying that he had "no doubt" enterprise SSD suppliers will design products reliable enough for business applications.

"Over time, I would expect to see SSDs further segmented to address various enterprise data types and applications. In this scenario, it will be important that the right SSD is installed for the right application to ensure it remains reliable and stable over time," he said.

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