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The SSD v. HDD Battles Continue: New opportunities


The solid state drive (SSD) v. hard disk drive (HDD) battle for preferred storage is one that has been watched for a few years now. SSD OEMs have long sought the market leading position for their end-products which HDDs continue to enjoy. However, the decline in traditional PC-demand alongside of the rise in mobile devices, has pushed NAND flash ahead of DRAM as the memory of choice. The mobility trend has also generated new interest in SSDs and new connector solutions that are likely to create a new window of opportunity for SSDs to gain on HDDs in enterprise storage.

The thin war adds volume

One of the key demand drivers for smart wireless devices (SWDs) over traditional PC devices has been portability with anywhere-anytime connectivity. HDDs are at a disadvantage in the SWD market for a number of reasons, but notably lacking in the ability to provide a thin, lightweight, fast, and power efficient solution. When it comes to mobility, clearly SSDs are still unmatched.

The rapidly rising demand for mobile devices has added volume demand to SSDs which, in turn, has helped to reduce average selling prices (ASPs) and improved the forecast for SSD adoption in the newer PC models. Some of the latest data supporting this market opportunity for SSDs are presented by iSuppli:

The divergent outlook for the two products [SSDs and HDDs] will allow SSDs to climb and claim 36 percent of the PC storage market in 2017, up from just 6 percent in 2012. At the same time, HDDs will see their long-term dominance in PCs erode, with their share falling to 64 percent in 2017, down from a commanding 94 percent in 2012.

Among the new end-devices with SSDs are the new hybrid "ultramobiles" revealed during the first half of 2013. These hybrid ultramobiles are looking to bridge the PC-tablet divide and offer a convertible PC-tablet device for the expanding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend that includes PC-computing choices: "Gartner forecasts that computing devices bought by consumers will grow from 65 percent in 2013 to 72 percent in 2017. This signifies the growing importance of designing for the consumer inside the enterprise." (For more detailed insight on the role of BYOD and component changes in the industry, see the latest Smith MarketWatch Quarterly.)

What about a thin HDD?

When it comes to ultramobiles, tablets and Ultrabook PCs, how will the SSD versus HDD battle play out? Are HDDs bound to lose ground steadily as volume increases help drop SSD prices, or are there new opportunities for HDDs?

One bright spot is the new, thinner, 5.0 to 7.0mm range HDDs, as iSuppli reported earlier this month. According to the report, these new HDDs are forming "a new class of ultraslim HDDs" with a noteworthy forecast:

[…] ultraslim HDDs […] are forecast to eventually displace the much thicker 9.5-mm drives that currently rule the industry. The combined shipments of 5.0- and 7.0-mm HDDs will reach 133 million units by 2017, up from just 5 million last year. Meanwhile, shipments of 9.5-mm HDDs will deteriorate over time, to 79 million in 2017, down from 245 million units in 2012.


Meanwhile, at the enterprise storage level the battle also continues between SSDs and HDDs. While SSDs have gained some entry to this sector, the issues around conventional storage interfaces have dampened SSD advantages in the data center. The latest standards definitions and newer peripheral component interconnect-express (PCIe) solutions targeted for SSDs are creating new opportunities for SSDs in the enterprise server sector.

The move away from SATA to PCIe is offering real performance advantages for SSD data center solutions. With PCIe connectors, speed increases of data transfer rates in the range of 2.5x of previous SATA interface solutions are possible based on greater number of channels, one example is Samsung's latest PCIe SSD, as reported by Engadget. Of course, others, such as Micron, are introducing enterprise PCIe SSDs, that similarly provide a slew of feature benefits alongside of being built on server-grade NAND. Whether or not enterprise adoption will happen this year is yet to be seen, but there has been a notable increase in momentum and discussion more recently.

Cloud and Big Data boost SSDs

Mobility trends have improved the uptake of SSDs, and this demand is expected to continue, as DrameXchange recently reported:

[…] the popularity of enterprise level SSDs are expected to continue growing thanks to the increased demands for cloud computing services and major data centers. These demands will make up for the sliding popularity in the OEM and channel SSD markets, and could eventually help enhance the sales momentum of the manufacturers who are known to produce enterprise level NAND Flash chips.

As we move into the second half of the year, among the many questions around SSD trajectories are how enterprise budgets will allocate funds to hardware solutions. With the continued growth of Big Data and related increases in data read requirements to support BYOD, new storage solutions are needed at enterprise-internal levels. This situation could be a win-win in the ongoing SSD v. HDD war, as cost drivers will balance the solutions but user demands will require newer SSD tiers to be added. HDDs are certainly not waning but SSDs may see growth opportunities as a result, as iSuppli notes:

Despite the rapid adoption of SSDs, hard disk drives will continue to lead the overall storage market because of their cost advantage on higher densities and dollars-per-gigabyte pricing. […]

HDDs also will continue to play a major role in cloud storage, remaining the final destination for the majority of digital content.

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 08:14 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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