Seagate, Fujitsu discuss SSD strategies

by Debra Vogler, senior technical editor, Solid State Technology

Oct. 29, 2008 – Seagate Technology and Fujitsu have been biding their time the last few years with respect to solid-state storage devices (SSD). SST spoke with experts of both companies about results from their evaluation of potential market opportunities.

Seagate: SSDs, HDDs to coexist for the long term

Rich Vignes, senior manager of market development in Seagate Technology’s solid state group, says the company looked at SSD opportunities for at least 18 months with the initial thinking that the technology would displace its HDD business. But instead, the company came to the conclusion that it will be additive to, and in fact expand the overall storage market. “SSDs will create a new tier of performance,” he told SST. “They will be utilized in several product variants in enterprise architectures and SSD early adoption will leverage existing ecosystems.”

Seagate believes that in the next few years SSD adoption will come in the form of a storage device that has the same interface and form factor as hard drives, making them easy to plug into the existing ecosystem without any change whatsoever. “Then, as people start to optimize architectures, that picture will likely change,” noted Vignes.

With respect to its own product portfolio, Seagate sees a place for SSDs only in tier 0 enterprise (i.e., mission critical) data center operations (see figure below), particularly for performance requirements in the range of 5K-15K IOPS. “This is where we believe SSD has its best value proposition — with outstanding performance, reducing system level power, and reducing the total system data center footprint,” Vignes told SST, adding that the other segment tiers are capacity driven and therefore better suited to HDD storage. However, the company believes that the growth of SSD share in tier 0 will also enable the growth of HDD storage in tiers 1, 2, and 3 because tier 0 data has to be backed up onto these other tiers. “So SSDs play a very small, but very important role in the total storage stack.”

Figure 1. SSD and the Seagate portfolio. (Source: Seagate)
CLICK HERE to view larger image

Seagate’s portfolio strategy reflects its market strategy. “If you’re a new SSD provider, who previously hasn’t sold storage into the enterprise, this is a new market and a new product for you,” Vignes told SST. “Whereas for Seagate, it’s only a new product, not a new market.” The company plans to serve the same end-user base, and believes there are many similarities between an SSD and an HDD so it can leverage its expertise and IP and direct them to build enterprise-ready SSD storage. “We absolutely believe that SSDs and HDDs will co-exist for the long-term,” he said. “We continue to improve the areal density of HDDs, and while SSDs do experience a drop in their cost because of improvements to NAND tech, those curves stay parallel for as far as the eye can see.”

Fujitsu: SSD “advantages” illusory for consumers

For Fujitsu, which has a development team investigating the market potential for SSD, the upshot is that there will be two market segments that will gravitate to SSD: 1) thin, light, low-cost notebooks; and 2) enterprise-specific applications.

For now, however, “Fujitsu doesn’t think there is much opportunity for SSDs in the notebook space,” according to Joel Hagberg, VP of marketing & business development at Fujitsu. The company believes that SSD penetration won’t be a factor in the notebook space until 2012, and thinks there is a lot of hype regarding the replacement of the traditional HDD in the mobile space with SSD. “There’s not a lot of opportunity from Fujitsu’s perspective,” he told SST. “Depending on which analyst’s data you use, there have only been about 120M+notebook drives shipped last year and of those, ~98,000-140,000 were SSDs, a very small percentage of the total.”

Hagberg noted that at this year’s Flash Summit there was debate about what really constitutes an SSD. If the answer is “a flash chip on a motherboard,” then that will quickly influence the volume next year, he observed. He also noted that cell phones and ultra-mobile PCs aren’t large enough to hold an HDD, so these weren’t a market for HDDs anyway.

Consumers are having a hard time spending the money for perceived advantages in the notebook space, Hagberg told SST. He specifically cited performance advantages commonly associated with SSDs that he says are not panning out for consumers — for example, consumers don’t really see faster boot times for their notebooks (and in fact, boot times might even be a little slower), and the performance play in traditional applications such as PowerPoint or Word also aren’t there. Moreover, Hagberg said, because HDDs go into sleep mode and draw 1/10 of the power when in the read/write state, even the “advantage” of SSDs in terms of power and battery life are illusory. “All power measurements of HDDs vs. SSDs are done during read/write,” he explained. “SSDs have one running state: a steady-state draw of energy, so HDDs have an extended battery life as a result.”

In the enterprise space, Fujitsu sees two big growth areas: 1) 2.5″ 10,000rpm mainstream server drives, and 2) the entry level SATA drive. By 2012, the industry will see some critical mass for SSD for high IOPS. “SSD works very well when you are reading [small block reads with very high IOPS], but not writing data,” said Hagberg. “HDDs work very well for large file transfers and also for writing data.” Citing some analysts’ observations, he noted there are doubts that the NAND industry can afford to take 10% of the HDD enterprise market share, given the fab capacity that would be needed by 2011 to achieve that.

In summary, Fujitsu believes HDDs will dominate volume in the next few years and new technology will be needed to overcome concerns about SSD reliability, cost, and performance. The company is also evaluating alternatives to NAND flash. — D.V.


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