New Doubts over SSDs in the Enterprise

SSD technology has been one of the top enterprise headlines of the past year, with proponents talking up its speed, lower operating costs and small form factor as major advances over current hard disk technology.

Leave it to the hard disk manufacturers to throw cold water on the party. Seagate this week issued an opinion paper as to exactly why it doesn’t think SSDs will have a significant effect on even the notebook market, let alone the enterprise. But before you think it’s just sour grapes, the argument does make a lot of sense. First, the company notes that the entire SSD industry shipped about 11 exabytes in 2010, compared to the 69 exabytes for HDDs, and that more than 90 percent of it went to smartphones, tablets and SD cards.

For Seagate, that creates a fundamental problem surrounding the actual manufacture of Flash storage. A major fab would cost upwards of $10 billion and take three to four years to build, and even then would only gain about 4 percent of the market. To Seagate, that’s simply not enough market share for a $10 billion investment.

Some might consider this simple number-crunching to suit a predetermined business strategy. After all, Seagate has never been a major booster of solid-state technology, going only so far as the Momentus XT hybrid device. Interestingly though, Seagate’s chief rival, Western Digital, has come to largely the same conclusion.

According to, WD CEO John Coyne had this to say during a recent investor call:

 “We have taken a look at and in fact shipped product into the SSD, in the client environment, and we do not find a compelling value proposition there either for manufacturer or for customer because the economics do not work. The cost of the storage/performance is too high.”

And perhaps even more interesting, Coyne said WD is investigating the viability of a hybrid drive of its own.

So does this mean enterprise SSDs are doomed? Hardly. Companies like Fusion-io are already making a substantial living delivering Flash storage to enterprise customers, and some firms are starting to combine the advantages of Flash with the convenience of cloud computing to bring costs under control. StorSimple, for example, offers SSD storage on its 5010 and 7010 appliances, combined with automated tiering to help guide data to the appropriate medium.

The problem, though, is that without a firm commitment to increased Flash production from anyone, and the mobile device market set to consume ever increasing amounts, pricing pressure will continually place SSDs at a premium compared to hard drives. And that is likely to force enterprises to deploy SSDs only in situations where there is no other choice.

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