Is the future of data storage in Flash or Hard Drives?

As data volumes are increasing at an unprecedented rate in enterprise data center environments, capacity is turning crucial, when it comes to the selection of storage solutions.

On the flip side, the need for storage solutions which keep up to the speed and performance required in enterprise data center environments is driving the growth of flash based storage system adoption, says Mo Tahmasebi, President and CEO of Dynamic Network Factory.

Seeing the adoption rate of flash based solutions, there is an ongoing rumor in the storage industry that flash storage will survive in future and hard disk based solution will turn extinct.

In reality, the same was predicted to tape storage, when the adoption rate of disk solutions started to increase a few years ago. But in today’s world, both these solutions co-exist, though are being applied for different application needs.

Factually speaking, hard disk drives utilize spinning media technology, which, although is prone to issues from being dropped or shocks, has been tried and tested over many decades and has seen significant enhancements to improve speed and storage capacity.

On the other hand, Solid-State disks based solutions, which includes-thumb drives and memory cards utilize flash, a new technology which is faster and is not prone to such ill effects from being dropped or handedly roughly, as it does not have moving parts in the form of spinning platters.

While flash based storage is faster and meets the performance requirements of today’s storage needs, several challenges remain with this new technology which mean that the predicted death of the HDD is vastly premature.

One of the biggest perk in using HDDs ( hard disk drives) is that these solutions are far more cost effective than their SSD cousins. This is because, as with the older technology, the cost of research and development as well as manufacturing around HDDs has already been absorbed.

Whereas, SSDs are still in the infancy stage, which means that R&D costs are high and economies of scale with regard to major manufacturing runs cannot yet be achieved. Moreover, the available capacity of SSDs simply cannot cope with the storage volumes required today. While in today’s world HDD capacity range has increased to 10 TB from 6TB, the SSD format is still lagging at 8TB stage, with few vendors presenting 15TB capacity drives (Samsung coming up with a 15TB SSD in 2016). Additionally, the cost per GB of SSD remains unaffordable for the majority of applications and for many users.

Another issue which is haunting SSD makers is the reliability factor. While SSDs do not contain moving parts such as R/W arms, spinning platters; there is a common issue of the degeneration of cells, which can negatively affect the capacity of the drive over the years. Cell generation is unpredictable, and causes permanent data loss, which is problematic.

Moreover, SSD failures are often permanent, as recovery of data from these solutions is almost impossible to many recovery services providers.

While SSDs are less prone to damage from shocks, the spinning platters continue to have the advantage, not only in terms of cost per gigabyte, but also in terms of applications. The HDD is available in many platforms, such as the 3.5 inches architecture for desktop apps, 2.5 inches form factor for mobile apps and 1.8 inches for automobiles and specialized apps.

The many apps for HDDs are evident in the fact that around 90% of the data stored around the world is stored on hard drives and approximately 90% of data storage solutions manufactured today are HDD based.

SSD is currently in the technological phase that fits niche apps, such as smart phones, tablets, cameras and other apps that are not performance or storage intensive.

Well, agree that all-flash exists where mission critical apps needing speed becomes crucial.

The future of SSD looks securely pragmatic, as a host of new technologies such as Phase-change memory, Resistive random access Memory, and Magneto resistive RAM (MRAM), are said to strengthen its existence by promising faster speed and durability.

However, while HDD is a tried and tested technology, it has by no means become static, and a similar evolution is taking place from a Hard disk perspective. Perpendicular recording and single magnetic recording (SMR) have enabled increased performance and capacity, and the next upcoming technology centers around heat assisted magnetic recording, which could row over this technology, leading to hard drives with even higher capacities and greater performance.

Finally, when it comes to the selection of storage media and the battle is between HDD and SSD, users need to take into account specific requirements, preferences and budget. Each storage medium has its own pros and cons, and each is thus currently applicable in different devices and scenarios. This means that the two technologies will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future, and we can safely say that the HDD is here to stay.

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