Welcome!

Open Source Cloud Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Shelly Palmer, Karthick Viswanathan, Stackify Blog

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo, SDN Journal

Containers Expo Blog: Article

SSD vs. HDD – The Battle for the Future of Storage

Look to the latest economically sensible storage solutions that are answering today’s performance and capacity calls

I have been working for technology companies for 33 years now, so I don't know why I'm always surprised at the technology myths that proliferate. For example, there is a popular notion running around that Solid State Drives (SSDs) will replace Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) as the dominant storage media. So, which will win? Let me give you my answer upfront before I take you through my arguments: both win, and the market size for both continues to grow.

As I offer up this data and this perspective, I'll repeat some advice I received early in my career. A mentor once told me, when searching for the truth in business and technology "look to the economics" (maybe my version of "go to the mattresses" for you "Godfather" fans).

Here is what I read and hear on a regular basis regarding the battle of HDDs and SSDs:

  • SSDs run circles around HDDs for performance
  • SSDs will soon replace HDDs
  • The improving density of SSDs will collapse the current cost premium to HDDs

Sound familiar? Well, as with most claims of this ilk, there are some elements of truth to them but each of these statements goes too far when viewed in light of some data.

Performance
Yes, it's true that SSDs are fundamentally faster than HDDs. This is particularly true of random I/O data reading (as with databases). With large block sequential data (i.e., rich media like video), however, this difference tends to be very small.

Replacing HDD?
Here's a claim where the data just doesn't add up. While the attractiveness of the SSD technology would lead one to believe this, the economics really don't hold up. I should probably point more specifically to NAND flash here (the "solid state" in SSDs) because another solid state technology might actually achieve this, but that appears to be years and tens of billions of dollars away.

Let's talk for a minute about the world's demand for storage. Last year approximately 2500 exabytes of data was created and/or replicated. And...this is doubling about every two years. This needs to be serviced largely by HDDs and SSDs. Last year, the NAND flash industry produced somewhere between 30 and 40 exabytes of storage; with somewhere around 3.5 exabytes finding its way into SSDs (the balance in phones, tablets, cameras, etc.). What is that, 1.4% of our total storage need? But production is ramping up... at a capital cost of about $1.5 billion per Exabyte (semiconductor fabs are expensive)! So, from an available supply perspective, SSDs replacing HDDs seems implausible.

Improving Technology Makes SSDs Cheaper
Agree. The NAND flash technology point is at 21nm line widths with plans to move to 19, then 16 nm. Storage density is further improving with the use of multi-level cell (MLC) capabilities vs single-level cell (SLC). This is bringing down the cost of solid state storage in much the same way the areal density increases seen in HDDs brought down the cost of hard drive storage.

Notice how I said "brought" down (i.e., past tense)? Because a real density growth in the hard drive industry has slowed to a crawl, the rapid erosion of cost/Gb has also slowed to a crawl. Now, the HDD industry needs to move to its next technology (HAMR?) to continue to take cost out and HAMR is a number of years away. HAMR will require significant capital investment by the HDD companies. Significant capital investment will be required anyway to keep up with storage demand (even more so with slowing areal density growth). This all spells out a flattening of HDD costs for the foreseeable future. Some would speculate that a renewed interest in improving the utilization of HDD capacity is an artifact of these economics.

Here's what's preventing the complete collapse of the price difference between the two technologies. The NAND flash suppliers have a similar problem as the HDD manufacturers... the implications of shrinking technology geometries. As the line widths shrink, the ability of flash to sustain multiple write-erase cycles declines. To make up for this deficiency, sophisticated error-correction algorithms and "brute force" overprovisioning (to allow some cells to wear out) are being used. This and the above mentioned semiconductor fab costs tend to mitigate the progress SSDs are making in closing the cost gap to HDDs.

Having made my arguments that SSDs won't take over the world, I have to say that IT solutions need this technology. I think you can see that SSDs aren't the answer to all our storage needs, but they allow us to address a crying storage requirement. At a high level, storage is called on to produce two key deliverables:

  • Make data available to an application or user in an appropriate timeframe (i.e., performance) and in today's environment this need is growing.
  • Store data reliably (i.e., capacity) and in today's environment this need is growing

By and large, to date, systems with hard drives have been architected to deliver both of these capabilities. It's hard to argue that hard drives haven't done a good job of delivering affordable capacity. But to deliver against the performance requirements of IT solutions, hard drives:

  • Have been developed with higher speeds, but arguably little progress has been made in the last ten years
  • Have been "short stroked" (a technique limiting the stroke of the actuator to improve performance)
  • Have been grouped together to allow striping of data across a large number of drives to aggregate their performance.

With each of these approaches the user suffers from higher power requirements, and with the last two approaches their system has been overprovisioned (leaving stranded capacity) to deliver performance. This all adds up to significant system cost that can be avoided with new storage architectures.

Here's where SSDs come in. SSDs are proving to be a technology answer to the new generation of storage needs, both the growing performance and the growing capacity requirements. Here's the simple, logical way to think about SSDs and HDDs and their role in storage solutions. Use the right tool for the job. That is, take advantage of SSDs for performance (particularly small block, random I/O) and HDDs for capacity.

You might challenge me now and ask, "Does adding SSDs (Flash) to IT solutions make economic sense?" SSDs are expensive, but, used appropriately, SSDs can also minimize the number of HDDs required in a given solution. The secret is in optimizing the use of both, that is, avoid overprovisioning of both. Thin provisioning of capacity has become popular as a cost saver. Similarly, thin provisioning of performance is a similar cost saver. (This is a benefit of virtualized caching or tiering capabilities of newer storage solutions.)

I'll close with a few proof points. Look to the latest economically sensible storage solutions that are answering today's performance and capacity calls. The vast majority of affordable "Ultrabooks" incorporate both flash and hard drive technology, as does Apple's latest "Fusion" drive.

More Stories By Tom Major

Tom Major is President of Starboard Storage. He joined Starboard from Seagate Technology, where he was senior vice president of Product Management and Business Operations. Before Seagate, Major worked at LeftHand Networks as chief strategy officer. Previous positions included vice president and general manager, Disk Business Unit, at StorageTek and vice president of Network Storage Marketing at HP, where he spent 21 years.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Daiya Industry will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Daiya Industry specializes in orthotic support systems and assistive devices with pneumatic artificial muscles in order to contribute to an extended healthy life expectancy. For more information, please visit https://www.daiyak...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusic will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Fusic Co. provides mocks as virtual IoT devices. You can customize mocks, and get any amount of data at any time in your test. For more information, visit https://fusic.co.jp/english/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Keisoku Research Consultant Co. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Keisoku Research Consultant, Co. offers research and consulting in a wide range of civil engineering-related fields from information construction to preservation of cultural properties. For more information, vi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Interface Corporation is a company developing, manufacturing and marketing high quality and wide variety of industrial computers and interface modules such as PCIs and PCI express. For more information, visit http://www.i...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ryobi Systems will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ryobi Systems Co., Ltd., as an information service company, specialized in business support for local governments and medical industry. We are challenging to achive the precision farming with AI. For more information, visit http:...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enroute Lab will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enroute Lab is an industrial design, research and development company of unmanned robotic vehicle system. For more information, please visit http://elab.co.jp/.
Elon Musk is among the notable industry figures who worries about the power of AI to destroy rather than help society. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, embraces all that is going on. AI is most powerful when deployed across the vast networks being built for Internets of Things in the manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail, healthcare, government and other sectors. Is AI transforming IoT for the good or the bad? Do we need to worry about its potential destructive power? Or will we...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nihon Micron will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Nihon Micron Co., Ltd. strives for technological innovation to establish high-density, high-precision processing technology for providing printed circuit board and metal mount RFID tags used for communication devices. For more inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that mruby Forum will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. mruby is the lightweight implementation of the Ruby language. We introduce mruby and the mruby IoT framework that enhances development productivity. For more information, visit http://forum.mruby.org/.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Greg Gorman is the Director, IoT Developer Ecosystem, Watson IoT, will provide a short tutorial on Node-RED, a Node.js-based programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. It provides a browser-based editor that makes it easy to wire together flows using a wide range of nodes in the palette that can be deployed to its runtime in a single-click. There is a large library of contributed nodes that help so...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real r...
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, will discuss how data centers of the future will be managed, how th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Mobile Create USA will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Mobile Create USA Inc. is an MVNO-based business model that uses portable communication devices and cellular-based infrastructure in the development, sales, operation and mobile communications systems incorporating GPS capabi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TMC has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo and Big Data at Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Global buyers rely on TMC’s content-driven marketplaces to make purchase decisions and navigate markets. Learn how we can help you reach your marketing goals.
There is huge complexity in implementing a successful digital business that requires efficient on-premise and cloud back-end infrastructure, IT and Internet of Things (IoT) data, analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Applications. In the data center alone, there are physical and virtual infrastructures, multiple operating systems, multiple applications and new and emerging business and technological paradigms such as cloud computing and XaaS. And then there are pe...
Real IoT production deployments running at scale are collecting sensor data from hundreds / thousands / millions of devices. The goal is to take business-critical actions on the real-time data and find insights from stored datasets. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Walicki, Watson IoT Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud, will provide a fast-paced developer journey that follows the IoT sensor data from generation, to edge gateway, to edge analytics, to encryption, to the IBM Bluemix cloud, to Wa...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that App2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. App2Cloud is an online Platform, specializing in migrating legacy applications to any Cloud Providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).