Has SSD put Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) On Endangered Species List?

April 19, 2009 – 10:56 am

Storage I/O trends

Disclosure: I have been a user, vendor, author and analyst covering and a fan (and continue to be) of SSD for over 20 years

I have thought and wanting to post about this for a while, however recently several things popped up including moderating a panel where a vendor representative told the audience that the magnetic hard disk drive (HDD) would be dead in two, at most three years. While there were a few nods from those in the audience, the majority smiled politely, chuckled, looked at their watches or returned to doing email, twitters, texting or simply rolled their eyes in a way like, yeah right, we have heard this before ( ;) ).

Likewise, I have done many events including seminars, keynotes including at a recent CMG event (the performance and capacity planning group that I have been a part of for many years), webcasts and other interactions with IT pros, vendors, vars and media. These interactions have included among other topics, IT optimization, boosting server and storage efficiency, as well as the roll of tiering IT resources to boost efficiency, achieve better productivity while boosting performance in a cost-effective way during touch economic times, in other words, the other green IT!

Then the other day, I received an email from Mary Jander over at Internet Evolution. You may remember Mary from her days over at Byte & Switch. Mary was looking for a point, counter point, perspective and sound bit to a recent blog posting on her site and basically asked if I thought that the high performance HDD would be dead in a couple of years at the cost of FLASH SSD. Having given Mary some sound bits and perspectives which appear in her Article/Blog posting, there has since been a fun and lively discourse in Marys’ Internet Evolution blog comment section which could be seen by some as the pending funeral for high performance HDDs.

There has been a lot of work taking place including by industry trade groups such as the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative (SSSI) among others, not to mention many claims, discussions, banter and even some trash talk about how the magnetic hard disk drives (HDD) that as a technology is over 50 years old now, is nearing the end of the road and is about to be replaced by FLASH SSD in the next two to three years depending on who you talk with or listen to.

That may very well be the case, however, I have a strong suspicion that while the high performance 3.5" Fibre Channel 15,500 Revolution per minute (15.5K RPM) HDD is nearing the end of the line, I don’t believe that the 2.5" small form factor (SFF) Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) 15.5K (maybe faster in the future?) high performance and larger capacity HDD will have met its demise in the two to three-year timeframe.

The reason I subscribe to this notion is that of a need for balancing performance, availability, capacity, energy to a given power, cooling, floor space and environmental need along with price to meet different tiers of application and data quality of service and service level needs. Simply put, there continues to be a need even with some the new or emerging enhanced intelligence capabilities of storage systems for tiered media. That is tier-0 ultra fast SSD (FLASH or RAM) in a 2.5" form factor with SATA shifting to SAS connectivity, tier-1 fast 2.5" SAS 15.5K large capacity HDDs, tier-2 2.5" SATA and SAS high-capacity, 5.4 to 10K HDDs, or, ultra large capacity SAS and SATA 3.5" HDDs to meet different performance, availability, capacity, energy and economic points.

Why not just use SSD FLASH for all high performance activity, after all it excels in reads correct? Yup, however, take a closer look at write performance which is getting better and better, even with less reliance on intelligent controllers, firmware and RAM as a buffer. However, there is still a need for a balance of Tier-0, Tier-1, Tier-2, Tier-3 etc mediums to balance different requirements and stretch strained IT budgets to do more efficiency.

Maybe I’m stuck in my ways and spend to much time talking with IT professionals including server or storage architects, as well as IT planners, purchasers and others in the trenches and not enough time drinking the cool-aid and believing the evangelists and truth squads ;). However there is certainly no denying that Solid State Devices (SSD) using either RAM or FLASH are back in the spotlight again as SSD has been in the past, this time for many reasons with adoption continuing to grow. I think that its safe to say that some HDDs will fade away like other earlier generations have, such as the 3.5" FC HDD, however other HDDs like the high performance 2.5" SAS HDDs have some time to enjoy before their funeral or wake.

What say you?

BTW, check out this popular (and its Free) StorageIO Industry Trends and Perspectives White Paper Report that looks at various data center performance bottlenecks and how to discuss them to transition towards becoming more efficient. However a warning, you might actually be inclined to jump on the SSD bandwagon.

Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with SSD, after all as I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan, however, I’m also a huge fan of spinning HDDs having skipped SSD in my latest computer purchases for fast 7.2K (or faster) HDDs with FLASH for portability (encrypted of course). After all, it’s also about balancing the different tiers of storage mediums to the task at hand, that is, unless you subscribe to the notion that one tool or technique should be used to solve all problems which is fine if that is your cup of tea.

Ok, nuff said.

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

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