Solid State Memory Gains on HDDs

Flash memory is starting to be used in equipment that's not necessarily mobile or small, specifically challenging the hard disk drive in PCs and even enterprise servers in the datacenter.

As mobile technology has gained steam, it raised the profile of solid state memory. The use of NAND flash chips in mobile phones and other mobile devices makes sense because of the lower power consumption, lower space requirements, and increased ruggedness of semiconductor memory, even though the chips are least 50 percent per gigabyte more expensive than traditional hard disk drives.

Now that pricing limitation seems to be evaporating. According to market research company IHS, solid state disks (SSDs) will account for more than a third of worldwide PC storage shipments by 2017, about seven times what they are today. SSD shipments in PCs will rise to 227 million units in 2017, compared with 31 million in 2012, while shipments of PC hard disk drives will fall 14 percent, from 475 million in 2012 to 410 million in 2017.

Fang Zhang, analyst for storage systems at IHS, says that ultrabooks and other ultra-thin notebooks are driving the growth of SSDs in PCs today. That market is fairly small. Over the next few years, however, these thin notebooks will use touch-screens and become more appealing to consumers, boosting SSD demand, he predicts. Simultaneously, prices on flash memory will decline, making SSDs more attractive to both PC manufacturers and buyers, he says.

SSDs have also been creeping into the enterprise storage market over the last few years. As processing speeds have increased and the amount of data has grown, the speed of hard-disk-drive access has not kept up. And with growth in big-data and cloud computing skyrocketing, datacenters need faster information processing across the board.

That means that hard disk drive storage has become a major bottleneck in enterprise datacenters. As a result, vendors have integrated SSDs into some enterprise storage systems. But because of its expense, SSDs are used in only a small proportion of applications that require the highest performance Tier 1 storage.

Big flash
That may be about to change, however. In April, IBM announced that it would invest $1 billion to research, develop, and design flash into its servers, storage systems, and middleware. It also introduced its own all-flash storage appliance. The company thinks enterprise Tier 1 storage should be entirely flash-based, and it is investing big time to make that transition.

“The economics and performance of flash are at a point where the technology can have a revolutionary impact on enterprises, especially for transaction-intensive applications,” said Ambuj Goyal, general manager of systems storage in IBM's Systems & Technology Group. “The confluence of Big Data, social, mobile and cloud technologies is creating an environment in the enterprise that demands faster, more efficient, access to business insights, and flash can provide that access quickly.”

To prove its point, IBM plans to open a dozen centers of competency around the world. There, customers can see demonstrations of how flash can improve the performance of computing jobs like credit card processing, stock exchange transactions, manufacturing, and order processing systems.

Even as SSDs take over part of the market, however, hard disk drives aren't going away. IHS says hard disk drives will still be much less expensive at higher densities and will still cost less per gigabyte across the board, making them perfect for storage that does not need quick access. Thus, IHS expects hard disk drives to remain the final destination for a majority of digital content.

13 comments on “Solid State Memory Gains on HDDs

  1. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 13, 2013

    Solid state has a strong track record of use in certain types of applications and this seems to be a solid move further in that direction. In a world where data is spread across huge numbers of servers, there's certainly a place for it.  I have read some pundits predicting the death of the traditional hard drive, but i think, despite this change, that the older technology will hang on longer than anyone might think.

    June 14, 2013

    I believe that SSD offers great opportunity for developers and suppliers.  Not only is it the SSD itself but it is the myriad other components that serve to power, communicate and protect with the SSD on the PCB.  I believe this market has huge potential.

  3. t.alex
    June 15, 2013

    Yes definitely. I do hear SSD is also being used for servers as well. I think with the current trends, prices will drops more and SSD will be everywhere. 

    I am not sure if there still exists the limitation of number of write cycles of SSD and hence your disk can be only used for certain number of years?

  4. _hm
    June 15, 2013

    It will be very nice to see all laptops and most destop with SSDs. What is typical performance gain with SSD as compare to HDD? SSD will be also be greener option due to less power consumption.


  5. hash.era
    June 16, 2013

    @_hm: Yes true good to see laptops with it but not sure how good it will be with desktops. Have anyone tried it ? Experimented at least ?  

  6. Wale Bakare
    June 16, 2013

    >>while shipments of PC hard disk drives will fall 14 percent, from 475 million in 2012 to 410 million in 2017.<<

    Does this prediction means future PCs or laptops would not have hard disk drives?

  7. Wale Bakare
    June 16, 2013

    Yes, performance would determine this.

  8. Tom Murphy
    June 17, 2013

    I agree on the staying power of HDD, Hailey.  They will remain around as long as the factories that make them, and will probably fade out eventually because the cost/unit will eventually exceed the cost/SSD.   But just as tape survived much long than anyone expected, I think HDDs will be rotating for many years to come.

  9. _hm
    June 17, 2013

    @hash.era: I see main advantage of quick to boot and quick to sleep. This way, desktop becomes greener. I like desktop with two large monitors. Often, I do not let desktop go to sleep, as it takes long time to come back. With SSD, this will faster and enrgy can be saved.

  10. Mr. Roques
    June 18, 2013

    How scared are HDD and SSD manufacturers of cloud storage? At least from their consumer electronics disks.

    Will traditional HDDs just count on that their prices will always be lower? They need to create another plus because at one point, people will start to switch (DVD -> Blu Ray, etc.)

  11. hash.era
    June 30, 2013

    @_hm: Yes good options to have, especially the Quick to Sleep option. Anyway it tends to get slower with the chunks of data being put in. 

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    August 21, 2013

    New technologies in this area are moving fast. Some new offerings plug directly into the server DIMM slot which allows for lightening fast access since there's a direct connection to the processor. One such offering is from Diablo.  These vendors are working with making standard memory appropriate for robust applications.

  13. itguyphil
    August 22, 2013

    I don't know. Most consumer laptops/desktops now either come with SSDs standard or have a small fee to upgrade to it from spinning drives.

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