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).