Flash Storage Gets Cheaper, Disk Storage Gets More Expensive
January 16, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Here’s a confluence of events that is sure to make IT shops interested in high performance data subsystems happy. Flash storage, which is at the beginning of its adoption cycle in the enterprise, is getting less expensive by the week just as disk shortages due to the flooding in Thailand, where about a quarter of the world’s disk drives are made, are causing disk vendors to raise their prices.
For now, the disk shortages have mostly centered on drives aimed at desktop and laptop PCs, but some drive component manufacturers are under water (literally, not just financially) and the issue is spilling over into enterprise-class drives. Similarly, while flash drives suitable for smartphones, tablets, and PCs are all expected to come down in price this year, enterprise solid-state drive (SSD) storage is riding a very similar Moore’s Law curve where capacity is going up a lot faster than incremental manufacturing costs. So the per-gigabit costs of SSDs suitable for servers is also on the decline.
In a forecast released last week, the prognosticators at IDC said that they reckon that SSD manufacturers raked in $2.4 billion in revenues in 2010 and that revenues had grown by 105 percent to $5 billion last year. The company did not provide any figures for the total amount of SSD capacity that shipped last year, but said that it projects for SSD shipments (by drive count, not aggregate petabytes) across all types to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 51.5 percent between 2010 and 2015. In previous statements, IDC has said that it expected for client SSD sales to grow from 11 million units in 2011 and up to 100 million units by 2015.
Dual-drive PCs, which have a flash drive and a disk drive, are pushing up the flash market, and so are all of the electronic gadgets (including the Intel-defined ultrabook that sits somewhere between a tablet and a laptop) that consumers and businesses alike are buying. I think the several dozen flash drives I have near my desk are also helping, and of course, so is the adoption of hybrid SSD-HDD setups in servers. As The Four Hundred has reported many times, a sprinkling of SSDs inside of Power Systems machines running IBM i can have a dramatic effect on database and application performance and is often well worth the extra cost on a long-term basis.
Interestingly, IDC is projecting that the average cost of SSDs aimed at client devices–PCs and tablets–will fall below the $1 per gigabyte threshold in the second half of 2012. Pricing projections were not available from IDC for enterprise SSDs like the kind you want to shove into your IBM i box, but generally speaking, you paid on the order of $100 per GB for a flash-based SSD five years ago when they first started coming into the data center, compared to $3 per GB for a disk drive. Today, depending on the flash technology used, the capacity, and the sophistication of the controller on the flash (is it on a drive format or does it plug into a PC slot?), enterprise SSDs cost somewhere on the order of $2.50 to $15 per GB, and disks are in the range of 50 cents per GB. It won’t be long before flash costs what disks used to, and come in the same capacity. And obviously, even a big jump in disk prices because of the issues in Thailand won’t close that gap all that much.
It would be foolish to think that flash will replace hard disk drives any time soon. For many applications, the cost per GB for flash is way too high and will remain that way for some time. But there will probably come a day when disks are the exotic technology, not the volume product.
Won’t that be weird?