Seagate: Flash memory isn't a threat to conventional disk drives

By on April 16, 2012, 4:29 PM

Bored on this relatively uneventful Monday? Click on over to Forbes and read their nine-page interview with Seagate CEO Steve Luczo, who touched on everything from the Thailand floods, network-attached storage, future technologies like HAMR, industry consolidation, upcoming challenges and perhaps most interestingly, the state of flash storage. Although solid-state drives are increasingly popular, Luczo said they're complementary, not competitive, and analysts who claim otherwise are clueless.

His argument is multifaceted, but the reductive version is basically what we already know: flash is too pricey. "I mean, yeah, if a bunch of rich people in Atherton want to buy a PC for $1,000 that has 128 gigs, then, sure," Luczo said of Intel's ultrabooks. Flash's high price is caused by relatively limited (and expensive) production. Thus raises another point: even if NAND makers wanted to (and the demand existed), they couldn't crank out enough chips to supply the world with flash memory.

Luczo noted that the storage industry shipped about 400 exabytes in 2011. That's expected to reach a zettabyte in the next five years or so and depending on who you ask, the industry will ship between seven and 35 zettabytes by 2020 (Seagate claims the smaller number). Flash can't even meet one tenth of one percent of that demand. Although client machines might take advantage of flash's benefits, users will still need bulk storage somewhere, be it in a desktop, NAS or in the cloud.

"People get locked in to this view at a device level. Yes, you could have some number of units that are serviced by flash. Let’s hope so. In fact, my bigger concern is that the flash guys can't figure out how to keep delivering the performance and costs that they've been able to as they get to sub-21 nanometers, than it is that somehow they're going to replace HDDs. Not without literally $500 billion of investment in fabs they're not. And even then they'd only be scraping the surface," Luczo added.

Not only can Seagate and Western Digital produce cheaper storage today, but their operations also expand more efficiently. "Here's the real question," Luczo said, "what's the capital investment to grow exabytes? For flash, it is $10 billion at a chunk, which is what it takes to build a new chip fab. For drives, it's a fraction of that. If the industry had to grow from 400 to 500 exabytes, we'd do that on $1 billion of capital." Again, there's tons more in the interview (most SSD talk on pages four and five).

**HDD image via Vitaly Korovin/Shutterstock

User Comments: 11

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ikesmasher said:

at the price SSDS are at right now, no.

Espcially in servers. Imagine the cost of a 10TB server of HDDs vs 10TB of SDDs. *shivers*

Guest said:

Famous last words

Marnomancer Marnomancer said:

Famous last words

Geez, it's not The Hacker Manifesto.

Anyway, defending traditional disks today sounds like my dad, who wouldn't move on to Win7 from XP. TBH, I wouldn't mind if SSDs kill HDDs. Well, unless they're cheaper.

Chazz said:

Even though I have an SSD, I agree with this guy sadly enough. I can't wait for the day when SSDs become the defacto storage, if ever.

RzmmDX said:

Well, if my HDDs stop failing on me sure. But I had to deal with 3 failures in the last 5 months, 2 from WD and 1 from seagate...

So yeah... HDDs are so awesome.

Guest said:

If the prices of SSD's came to about half of what they are now .. I'll never buy a HDD; I'll just wait for my current ones to fail and replace with SSD's even if with smaller capacities. I can live with that with a good network link (which I have already).


Nima304 said:

Imagine a world where you'd never have to defragment your drives. Try explaining that to your children.

Marnomancer Marnomancer said:

Imagine a world where you'd never have to defragment your drives. Try explaining that to your children.

Aye, people growing lazy.

And machines getting better.

Guest said:

Did he touch upon criminal price fixing?

Guest said:

Right. After a few HD failures w/ online retailer bard drives, I now only buy HD's locally and packaged in a retail box. So far so good, fingers crossed.

Guest said:

SO nema You dont use a modern OS (defrag automatically). ANd far from SSD's being super reliable, so far they have been a nightmare of beta firmware and overblown specs e.g. most reviews quote speeds for fresh new 256Gb, whereas the true speeds for a dirty 64gb drive are one tenth of that, thats if the drive doesnt BSOD or lock up. How about making them usable on other OS too?. The future is probably Momentus XP, a large chunk of SSD to cache the Platters, ensuring the best of both worlds. Please use synchronous SLC not the ASynchronous MLC asrewipings they sell as cheap SSD now.

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