Can An Old-World Storage Vendor Compete In The SSD Space?
Slowly but surely, the enterprise-oriented SSD industry is changing. Gone are the days of SLC-based drives serving as the workhorses of the data center. Even high-endurance MLC is beginning to give way to more vanilla compute-quality MLC flash. Much of this is a direct consequence of what enterprise-class customers want. Over the past few years, they've eschewed pricier models, favoring desktop drives that can be swapped out quickly. These "disposable" SSDs are a known commodity. They're cheap and still perform admirably. Everyone knows they'll wear out faster, but that doesn't matter. All SSDs wear out and eventually need to be replaced; it's a fact of life. What folks have figured out, though, is that it's more cost-effective to replace ordinary desktop drives at a higher rate than spending big bucks on robust SSDs.
This is why, over the course of 2013, you will start seeing more SSD vendors segment their enterprise families into swim lanes, each addressing a specific use case. In the case of the 600 Pro, you're looking at a product built specifically for read-intensive workloads. You just have to be careful with it. Writes chip away at its rated lifespan quickly. We plan to review a number of SSDs that fit the same description over the next few months, though. No doubt, vendors will take slightly different approaches to this, and it will be exciting to see where the industry goes (at least as exciting as enterprise storage gets).
Seagate's 600 Pro doesn't offer the best raw performance out there. But it is quite capable, and we do see it lead the pack in several categories. It just can't do what an Intel SSD DC S3700 can do. Then again, the 600 Pro only really struggles in the workloads it's not meant for anyway. Keep this thing out of write-intensive environments and it'll treat you well.
When we talked to Seagate about the 600 Pro, we knew that pricing would make or break it. If the company planned to sell above $2/GB, there'd be no way we'd want it. Surely, thousands would have still sold. But it would have played second fiddle to some of the more impressive enterprise SSDs already on the market. However, at ~$1.50/GB, Seagate has a winner on its hands.
Let's put that into perspective. Seagate's Savvio 146 GB 15K.3 SAS drive sells for almost $1.70/GB. Of course, the Savvio has a lower failure rate and nearly unlimited write endurance. But it's still astounding how far the prices on solid-state storage are falling.
The 600 Pro (and the rest of Seagate's new solid-state drives) show the storage world that this company is serious about augmenting its conventional storage line-up. It isn't going to let its enterprise drive business dwindle as SSDs become more prevalent. Seagate is still at a disadvantage, though. This is the company's first complete solid-state product portfolio. It has strategic business relationships with a number of key players, but it doesn't have its own controllers and it doesn't manufacture NAND. We can only hope that Seagate uses its clout in storage to continue developing compelling SSDs and create a more competitive landscape, to all of our benefits.