Click here to close now.


@CloudExpo Authors: Lori MacVittie, Jason Bloomberg, Elizabeth White, Victoria Livschitz, Pat Romanski

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.

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.

@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Machkey International Company will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Machkey provides advanced connectivity solutions for just about everyone. Businesses or individuals, Machkey is dedicated to provide high-quality and cost-effective products to meet all your needs.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Masters Technologies, provider of leading network visibility and monitoring solutions, will exhibit at the 17th International CloudExpo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Interface Masters Technologies is a leading provider of high speed networking solutions focused on Gigabit, 10 Gigabit, 40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet network access and connectivity products. For over 20 ye...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Agema Systems will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Agema Systems is the leading provider of critical white-box rack solutions to data centers through the major integrators and value added distribution channels.
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud Data Services, will demonstrate techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, ...
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical...
SYS-CON Events announced today that VividCortex, the monitoring solution for the modern data system, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The database is the heart of most applications, but it’s also the part that’s hardest to scale, monitor, and optimize even as it’s growing 50% year over year. VividCortex is the first unified suite of database monitoring tools specifically desi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Infrastructure & Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS) is a managed services provider of cloud computing solutions for the IBM Power Systems market. The company helps mid-market firms built on IBM hardware platforms to deploy new levels of reliable and cost-effective computing and hig...
SYS-CON Events announced today that JFrog, maker of Artifactory, the popular Binary Repository Manager, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit Silicon Valley, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Based in California, Israel and France, founded by longtime field-experts, JFrog, creator of Artifactory and Bintray, has provided the market with the first Binary Repository solution and a software distribution social platform.
Interested in leveraging automation technologies and a cloud architecture to make developers more productive? Learn how PaaS can benefit your organization to help you streamline your application development, allow you to use existing infrastructure and improve operational efficiencies. Begin charting your path to PaaS with OpenShift Enterprise.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Harbinger Systems will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Harbinger Systems is a global company providing software technology services. Since 1990, Harbinger has developed a strong customer base worldwide. Its customers include software product companies ranging from hi-tech start-ups in Silicon Valley to leading product companies in the US a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Key Information Systems, Inc. (KeyInfo), a leading cloud and infrastructure provider offering integrated solutions to enterprises, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Key Information Systems is a leading regional systems integrator with world-class compute, storage and networking solutions and professional services for the most advanced softwa...
In recent years, at least 40% of companies using cloud applications have experienced data loss. One of the best prevention against cloud data loss is backing up your cloud data. In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bryan Forrester, Senior Vice President of Sales at eFolder, will present how organizations can use eFolder Cloudfinder to automate backups of cloud application data. He will also demonstrate how easy it is to search and restore cloud application data using Cloudfinder.
Clearly the way forward is to move to cloud be it bare metal, VMs or containers. One aspect of the current public clouds that is slowing this cloud migration is cloud lock-in. Every cloud vendor is trying to make it very difficult to move out once a customer has chosen their cloud. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Naveen Nimmu, CEO of Clouber, Inc., will advocate that making the inter-cloud migration as simple as changing airlines would help the entire industry to quickly adopt the cloud wit...
Organizations already struggle with the simple collection of data resulting from the proliferation of IoT, lacking the right infrastructure to manage it. They can't only rely on the cloud to collect and utilize this data because many applications still require dedicated infrastructure for security, redundancy, performance, etc. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Emil Sayegh, CEO of Codero Hosting, will discuss how in order to resolve the inherent issues, companies need to combine dedicated a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
“All our customers are looking at the cloud ecosystem as an important part of their overall product strategy. Some see it evolve as a multi-cloud / hybrid cloud strategy, while others are embracing all forms of cloud offerings like PaaS, IaaS and SaaS in their solutions,” noted Suhas Joshi, Vice President – Technology, at Harbinger Group, in this exclusive Q&A with Cloud Expo Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff.
Learn how Backup as a Service can help your customer base protect their data. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Stefaan Vervaet, Director of Strategic Alliances at HGST, will discuss the challenges of data protection in an era of exploding storage requirements, show you the benefits of a backup service for your cloud customers, and explain how the HGST Active Archive and CommVault are already enabling this service today with customer examples.
Docker is hot. However, as Docker container use spreads into more mature production pipelines, there can be issues about control of Docker images to ensure they are production-ready. Is a promotion-based model appropriate to control and track the flow of Docker images from development to production? In his session at DevOps Summit, Fred Simon, Co-founder and Chief Architect of JFrog, will demonstrate how to implement a promotion model for Docker images using a binary repository, and then show h...
Learn how IoT, cloud, social networks and last but not least, humans, can be integrated into a seamless integration of cooperative organisms both cybernetic and biological. This has been enabled by recent advances in IoT device capabilities, messaging frameworks, presence and collaboration services, where devices can share information and make independent and human assisted decisions based upon social status from other entities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Heydt, founder of Seamless...