For the storage market, judgment day will come some time in 2017. That's when sales of solid state storage devices will exceed conventional spinning hard drive sales—at least according to a report in The Register that is based on Gartner data and estimates provided by investment firm Stifel.
Stifel predicts that conventional hard disk drive (HDD) sales will rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4 percent from $9.1bn in 2014 to $11.0 in 2017. By contrast, the firm predicts that sales of solid state storage devices (SSDs) will continue rising at a staggering CAGR of 20 percent, from $5.8bn in 2014 to $11.5bn in 2017. By 2019 solid state storage revenues are predicted to exceed HDD revenues by about a third, with growth showing no sign of slowing.
These figures are contradicted by a less bullish report from Technavio Research released in late January, predicting the solid state storage device market will grow at a CAGR of just 7 percent, reaching $10bn by 2020. That would put storage judgment day back by several years.
But whichever report you choose to believe, both agree that the demand for enterprise solid state storage devices will grow substantially over the next few years.
Since solid state storage is more expensive than conventional storage, enterprise usage has been restricted to areas where the high performance benefits justify the cost. But new technology such as 3D NAND and triple level cells (TLC) mean that the absolute price of solid state storage is falling rapidly.
3D NAND technology has already been demonstrated, and big vendors like Samsung, Toshiba/SanDisk, SK Hynix and Intel/Micron are all readying themselves to sell 32-layer or 48-layer solid stage storage devices. Samsung has already unveiled a solid state drive with a storage capacity of 16TB (although not in a standard form factor), proving that solid state drives can offer capacities that exceed the current generation of very high capacity helium-filled HDDs. Other key vendors in the solid state storage space include Seagate, SanDisk and Western Digital.
"Technological upgrades have resulted in a substantial fall of price per GB of (solid state) storage space which has increased performance and lowered the total cost of ownership," says Navin Rajendra, Technavio's senior researcher on the semiconductor equipment industry. "Hence, enterprise SSDs are gaining significant traction in data centers and cloud storage applications."
And that means that means that the use of solid state storage is increasingly making economic sense in areas that were previously the domain of spinning disk media. Technavio's report concludes that the market for solid state storage, especially in North America, is being driven by enterprise demand for higher-density storage.
Catering to this demand are new products such as Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) brand new A series all-flash arrays, announced in January 2016, which offer very high storage density, as well as low total cost of ownership (TCO), high energy efficiency and high performance.
Unlike previous HDS all-flash arrays, which use custom flash module drives, the A-series uses standard sized drives with multi level cell (MLC) solid state storage. (The decision to use MLC rather than TLC 3D NAND was based on a lack of supply of this newer flash, according to Bob Madaio, a Hitachi Data Systems' senior director of product marketing.)
Particular applications that HDS is explicitly targeting with the A series arrays include virtual desktop, virtual server real-time analytics and small- to medium-sized database environments.
What's notable about these arrays is that they all come in a 2U form factor. Inside the chassis are crammed dual IvyBridge controllers and up to 60 1.6TB standard solid state storage devices (with support for higher capacity SSDs on the roadmap for Q4 2016). There are just three configurations available, and this has been done intentionally to keep the supply chain simple and prices low, according to Madaio.