Why we'll see even more disk drive choice

It's a paradox: we are down to 2 1/2 disk drive companies, but seeing more innovative disk drives then we have in years. Thin drives; hybrid drives; helium filled drives. Why?

Second source.  For decades OEM buyers insisted on a second source for every product. This forced vendors to offer cookie-cutter products.

But now that disk drive manufacturing has been reduced to Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba, what is the point of having a second source? PC vendors just have to trust that they'll have enough drives - and if they don't, well, too bad.

Thank the 2011 Thai floods for that new-found realism.

Innovation  Take the helium filled drive , for example. There is a lot of high technology that goes into building a container that won't leak.

Of course competitors will tear down the drive to understand the technology. But they'll see how successful the product is before deciding to invest in building a similar drive.

Western Digital, whose Hitachi Global Storage Technology subsidiary developed the drive, can ask buyers to pay a reasonable price given the economic benefits of higher capacity, lower power consumption and better performance.

Likewise Seagate can offer a 5mm thick hard drive knowing that customers will evaluate its business benefits, rather than insisting on a second source before they will incorporate it. Given the PC's sales freefall and the poor sales of Ultrabooks at their current MacBook Air price points, the 5mm drive will no doubt find many buyers.

The Storage Bits take   Several factors are at work:

  • The global decline in PC sales forces PC vendors to get creative. Withering tablet and smart phone competition is seeing to that.
  • Drive vendors have more market and pricing power because there are fewer of them. No PC vendor can afford to alienate the disk drive manufacturers.
  • Finally, the entire disk drive industry is under threat from the rise of solid-state drives. If disk drive vendors want to be in business in another five years they have to get creative.

Maybe not so creative as to start producing disk drives for archive use to displace costly high-end tapes. But the end of second source tyranny is a boon not only the industry but to all consumers as well.

Comments welcome. What other changes to disk drives would you like to see?


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