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Nand, flash, SSDs and HDDs – what’s happening?

It is estimated that the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. How will storage technology cope?

It was only a year or so ago that a shortage of Nand, due to high demand from smartphone producers and a restructuring of manufacturing, meant sold-state drive (SSD) prices remained high – too high for many to consider them an alternative to hard disk drives (HDDs) for data storage.

How times have changed. We now have a global over-supply of Nand, and it is a supply that is growing by 15% a year.

Intel’s fabrication plant in Dalian, China, is doubling its capacity. Samsung is increasing the output of its Chinese plant in Xian – due to come on-stream next year – and the firm’s new plant in Korea began production this year. There are many others coming on-stream soon.

As it costs about $10bn to open a Nand fabrication plant, those suppliers splashing the cash are clearly serious about continuing supply at this level and must, therefore, expect to see demand continuing to grow. But will it?

True, demand is currently growing at 5% a year. As the network of connected devices – the internet of things (IoT) – grows, demand for data storage rises and the very nature of the instantaneous, fast retrieval needed by the IoT means Nand will be the method of choice. But that is still some way behind the current growth in supply.

SSD prices are expected to start to drop as producers’ strategy to get the price down to a comparable point to challenge HDDs kicks in. Few expect to see parity, however.

HDD providers are responding to this sector development by enhancing the advantage that disks have over flash – capacity. Storage density can be increased, for example, via the use of shingled magnetic recording (SMR), where data is stored on overlapping grooves.

Seagate and Western Digital are both investing heavily in HDDs, which is evidence that there are no immediate concerns that cheaper SSDs will steal the HDD market. While speed is the USP for flash, it is capacity that gives the disks their edge.

As there will be no profit in selling, say, 4TB disks, the future lies in high capacity. Seagate predicts that we will see 100TB HDDs by 2025, using heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology. Western Digital is putting its faith in the alternative technology, microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR).

This innovation is much needed. According to IBM, the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. And some high-level innovation is taking place in the industry to ensure data storage continues to meet this fast-growing demand.

Next Steps

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