Sunday, January 27, 2008

Solid State Drives May Become Popular in Three-Four Years – Seagate’s Chief Executive

While there are a lot of talks about flash-based solid-state drives (SSDs) these days, not many actually use them due to price and relatively low capacity. Chief executive of Seagate Technology, the world’s largest maker of hard drives, said in an interview that it will take three or four years before SSDs take off and even this is not set on stone, as hybrid hard drives can challenge SSDs both in terms of performance and reliability.

Nowadays solid-state drives are used mainly in expensive notebooks that require high performance amid portability and reliability. However, nearly all of such notebooks optionally support traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) since they can store more data while being substantially more affordable. Given the current cost-per-gigabyte, chief executive of the world’s largest maker of hard disk drives believes that SSDs may find their place primarily in enterprise segments of the market and only in three or even four years time solid-state drives will make sense for other applications.

“We do think that [for] enterprises it [SSD] makes some sense where you can get the performance. They’re not big volumes yet but three or four years from now, depending on how the technology, the cost-per-gigabyte, and the reliability issues get resolved, there will be other places for it,” said William Watkins, chief executive officer of Seagate Technology, in an interview with Cnet

Many think that solid-state drives are considerably more reliable compared to hard drives due to the lack of moving parts and generally high reliability of flash. But Mr. Watkins doubts that SSDs truly have substantial reliability advantage over traditional HDDs and claims that the latter do not fail as often as other chips do.

“There is this argument that no moving parts is better, but if you look at the returns why PCs fail to come back, the hard drive is not the No. 1 or 2 issue. Chips generally have a higher failure rate in the systems than do hard drives, to be honest. I think you can make an argument that less moving parts is a good thing, but again, the reliability of hard drives is pretty good. I don't think you've got to pay a premium for that,” Mr. Watkins claimed.

Another advantage that flash-based drives have over traditional HDDs is performance: solid state drives are massively faster compared to conventional hard drives. But Mr. Watkins puts this under doubt as well: he thinks that hybrid hard drive (a hard disk drive with large flash cache) with a lot of flash can increase performance and cut power consumption so dramatically that hardly a lot of customers are interested in paying extra for fully flash-based storage devices.

“We think hybrids are nice solutions for notebooks. We think solid-state drives kind of play in the enterprise fairly well. The real opportunity in notebooks is power and boot-up time. The power in a notebook, the storage is less than 10% of the total power used… So you can’t make a lot of power savings with the solid state or hybrid, and in fact we can make within a minute or two with a hybrid the same power usage. We can cache the operating system to a hybrid, to a solid-state chip on the drive, and we can get the boot-up time fairly close to what you could get with a solid state,” the chief exec of Seagate indicated.

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