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Quo Vadis, Hard Drive?

Storage Trends In 2010: An Interview With Hitachi
By , Dmitry Chekanov

Tom’s Hardware: What do you think about the future of hybrid drives? Is it still reasonable to combine flash memory and a physical HDD in one package today? Or may such a combination be reasonable in future, for example, with Windows 8?

Steve Pereira: Hybrid hard drives were available about four years ago. They were not successful because they didn’t offer real performance advantages or value advantages to the market. You can see the logic for a product in the next few years, leveraging the strengs of flash technology combined with the price-performance value of a hard disk drive. However, we don’t see a market for hybrids at this point. 

Tom’s Hardware: When can we expect the adoption of new HDD technologies, such as patterned media?

Steve Pereira: We can expect to see that technology being adopted within the next, I would say, 18 months to two years. The adoption of the new technologies relies not so much on developing the technology; it is all about stabilizing it and guaranteeing the highest level of reliability for the customer. Every year we advance the capacities of disk drives. Today we have the highest capacity point of 2TB. Ten to twelve years ago, a similar drive actually held only 40MB. 

Tom’s Hardware: What is your opinion on the competition between flash drives and HDDs? Will flash drives replace HDD in high-end enterprise segment any time soon? Which segment has the best perspectives for that?

Steve Pereira: This is a good question. If we just look at flash drives versus hard drives, we’ll see that flash drives have already replaced hard disk drives in the last two years in certain segments. There used to be 1” hard disk drives called Microdrives. These 1” Microdrives were primarily used in the first Apple iPod mini. The next generation of iPod mini used flash storage and the majority of the 1” marketplace moved straight away to flash.

The next segment that is moving over to flash in a large scale is 1.8.” There is some similarity to my first example in that the majority of the 1.8” volume went into the Apple iPod Classic. When Apple moved its volume platform to the iPod Touch, the majority of the 1.8” hard drive market started to transition to flash.

Although I’ve mentioned Apple twice now, there are many other factories cranking out MP3 devices, but Apple was the significant market share player. Today, 1.8” hard disk drives still exist in certain automotive applications holding GPS and MP3 data in car entertainment systems. And you will also see 1.8” drives in handheld consumer video cameras.

The next segment where we’ve seen flash start to become more prevalent is netbooks. The original assumption was that flash would become the dominant storage requirement in the netbook, but what we saw very quickly was a market demand for much larger capacity points. Now what we see is that the majority of netbooks are actually based on 2.5” hard disk drives and not flash. High-end flash SSDs, as we call them, will co-exist with hard disk drives in the enterprise market for some time to come.

Tom’s Hardware: What is the future of 3.5" 15K enterprise hard drives? Is the Ultrastar 15K600 the last of its kind?

Steve Pereira: This is a discussion we have had very frequently in the company. What we see is growing demand on 2.5” high capacity. And as the capacity points on 2.5” increase to match those of 3.5,” we can see that the market for 15,000 RPM 3.5” drives is shrinking. 

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