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Hard Disk Sector Consolidates Amid Uncertain Future 237

Hugh Pickens writes writes "The WSJ reports that Western Digital will buy Hitachi Global Storage Technologies for about $4.3 billion in cash and stock, leaving only four key hard disk drive vendors — Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba and Samsung. The hard drive world has been seen as ripe for consolidation, particularly as the rise of tablet computers such as the Apple iPad — which don't use hard drives for data storage — is casting doubt on the future of hard disks. Compared to hard drives, solid-state drives promise greater power efficiency, performance, resistance to physical shock, and run more quietly since they contain no moving parts. But one area that solid-state drives do not improve on their spinning predecessors is in their inevitable movement towards failure. 'SSDs are going to fail just like hard drives will,' says Chris Bross, Senior Enterprise Recovery engineer at Drivesavers Data Recovery. 'Every storage device will have issues regardless of their underlying technology.'"
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Hard Disk Sector Consolidates Amid Uncertain Future

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  • Ehh (Score:3, Informative)

    by intellitech ( 1912116 ) * on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:33PM (#35409694)

    This isn't all that different from when Seagate bought Maxtor []. Back then, after the sale, Seagate controlled 44% of the market [], compared to nearly 50 percent market share which this deal has bestowed upon Western Digital [].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:33PM (#35409696)

    There will be no hard drives because we'll just store all our data in the cloud. (ducks)

    • by suso ( 153703 ) *

      Mmmm, dark bits. I wonder how much data could be stored in latency. In other words, how much data you could store in saturating all the cables of the world before the data gets to where its going. Like a token ring network, you just have to wait for your data to come back to you. Might be waiting a while though.

      • I've always believed that some forms of future data storage / backup could take the shape of continuing broadcast of bits into space, to some satellite or space craft that beams it back to us. And back and forth.

      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        What goes around, comes around. (pun intended)

        What you describe is essentially one of the earliest forms of memory, delay lines. []
      • Before DNS you'd give the specific route you wanted your email to travel. So instead of a simple, you'd address it like decrwl!alberta!aunro!ersys!flanders. Since there was no reason you couldn't send email to yourself, all you had to do to gank a little extra storage was uuencode your payload and mail it to yourself by the longest route possible. Then set up a .forward file to automatically re-send the email once it made it around the loop. Some email servers would transact just on
        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          Since there was no reason you couldn't send email to yourself

          Didn't some e-mail providers back then bill by the byte, by the hop, or both? Or was it unmetered?

      • Networking protocols will normally store a local copy of the data in transit. When the receiving end acknowledges that the data was successfully received, then the local copy can be deleted. Otherwise, if a packet was dropped the data would be lost.

        Ignoring that...I suspect that the amount of data that can be in transit in the world might be affected by the memory capacity of the network switches involved. The network switches make it unclear what you can store in latency. AFAIK they start dropping packets

    • by uncledrax ( 112438 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:53PM (#35410008) Homepage

      You don't have to duck if you're an AC :]

      But AC's point was that datacenters will still use alot of spinning disk until SSDs get a comparable $/byte ratio. Building a 100TB SAN array out of SSDs would run many times that of doing it with traditional spinning disk.

      I'm not saying it won't happen, just saying we're probably 3-5 years away from it.

      • Unless you need IOPS on the order of magnitude of 100 times faster. Then you move to a hybrid model of some of the higher end Drive Array Chassis offer with features like Dynamic Allocation.

      • by Lennie ( 16154 )
        Some say the SSD technology will reach a limit in a few years this is because of similair limits as processors have with 25nm manufacturing process and so on. Atleast that is what some say, I don't know if it is true. :-)
    • by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <EnsilZah@ G m a i l . com> on Monday March 07, 2011 @04:02PM (#35410116)

      I for one will not be entrusting my sensitive data to ducks, airborne or otherwise.

    • by erice ( 13380 )

      I know you were trying to be funny but, in a way, I think you are right. Hard drives may not cease to exist but they very well may disappear into the cloud. Hard disks have a lot of life left in them for server (i.e. "cloud") uses. But $/TB isn't all that important in notebooks or desktops. There, hard drive capacity is outstripping need and ssd are getting close to providing enough capacity at a reasonable price. What happens when hard drives disappear from Best Buy, Frys, etc and cease being a consu

  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:35PM (#35409716) Homepage

    For the end-user, it's great that the average lifespan of a drive is measured in years. For the manufacturers, not so good.

    Since upgrading my power supplies I've had very few drive failures over the past five years. I've purchased drives to expand storage, but rarely to replace. Across 10 laptops I have replaced two failed drives in two years. On the desktops, with about twenty drives between 5 machines, I've replaced maybe two units in two years. These run continuously, are rarely rebooted, and have semi-annual reboots to replace fans and clean out the dust.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:37PM (#35409768) Homepage

    After it seems clear the rewrite count is going to hell - 5000/cell for 32 nm, 3000/cell for 25 nm, SSDs are going to have a helluva time catching up in cost/GB. People will still want huge storage disks, data centers still need storage, hard disks aren't going away. The SSDs do rock for speed and is making huge performance gains but that doesn't bring the cost down. The combination of a blazing fast 100GB SSD and huge, slow 2TB HDD seems to be the way forward.

    • Actually where I think SSDs will have the biggest impact is on the "prosumer" disks(such as the raptor or 7200 RPM hard disks). There is just no reason to spring for those disks anymore, they don't have the size of their slower brethren or the speed of the SSDs. There is still however tons of room in the portable storage and enterprise markets.
    • That's really hard to judge. My biggest hard drive is on my laptop. It's 320 GB. It's nowhere close to full. I'm probably using about 100 GB. A significant chunk of that is OS, Installed Programs, and Paging file. I only use about 20 GB for data, including audio and video. I used to save a lot more stuff on my drive. But with the way internet is going lately, I find it easier to just download something again than to bother keeping it around on my computer, or even burning it to DVD. I could forsee
      • by afidel ( 530433 )
        I do more than 20GB per week just from my PVR. Sure if I watch stuff that goes down but I often get caught up with large projects at work and won't watch anything for a couple months and then have some downtime and catch up. At one point I had a backlog/archive of 1TB and had to delete stuff I wasn't planning on watching.
        • But in the future it could seriously be the norm to just download on demand all that back content you didn't watch. In recent years, I've been using my PVR less and less because of the ability to watch something after the fact either on the network's website, on demand via digital cable, or for older content on services like Netflix that would also have TV shows. In an ideal situation, PVRs wouldn't exist because you could just download everything when you wanted to watch it. And you wouldn't have to rem
          • But in the future it could seriously be the norm to just download on demand all that back content you didn't watch.

            That future is still fairly far off.

            First, you need a fast Internet connection. Even with a solid 2MB/sec dedicated to downloading video, it would take around 20 minutes to download an hour TV show (720p with a reasonable bitrate), and that's assuming the server will feed you data that fast. To be safe, you'd probably need at least 5 minutes of pre-buffering, and likely a lot more based on how often 360p YouTube videos pause to download more.

            Second, you'd need a reliable source for the download that would

            • With a 10 Mbit connection, which is readily available where I live, (50 Mbit is actually available, for the record i'm in Canada) you can watch HD streams from Netflix, and you only have to wait 30 seconds for it to buffer. Even on my paltry 3Mbit connection, i can watch SD content on netflix without waiting long for it to buffer. The only thing holding me back from dropping cable and PVR altogether is the lack of content services like Netflix and others. My internet connection is already there. All the
      • Of course there are usage patterns for which even such services would make only a negligible dent in storage requirements. For example, user-generated content is unlikely to be streamed on-demand and such content can grow to quite significant sizes. When I was more actively involved with Neverwinter Nights I had about ten gigabytes worth of hakpaks, modules and the related pizzazz on my hard drive. A few total conversions can make a game install huge.

        Likewise with selfmade music or movies. A high-quality
    • After it seems clear the rewrite count is going to hell - 5000/cell for 32 nm, 3000/cell for 25 nm, SSDs are going to have a helluva time catching up in cost/GB.

      With these reduced process sizes come higher capacities, so the overall erase limit as measured in GB on these devices ends up being nearly the same per unit area (32*32 = 1024, 25*25 = 625 .... 1024/625 is approximately 5000/3000)

      Furthermore, the erase limits as measured in GB of the higher capacity SSD's were and continue to be enormous. The (now old) 80GB X25-M drive can sustain over 200GB per day of block erases for over 5 years.. (Intel figures it to be "only" equivalent to 100GB/day in random write

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      Heh... I've held that this is probably going to be the case for many applications moving forward for the near to medium future. It should be noted that there's several technologies that're waiting in the wings to "replace" Flash memory and pretty much all of them, if they end up being successful, will render this discussion moot. :-D

    • I can't remember the last time I saw a non-geek's laptop or any work laptop with more than 40 or 50 gigs of space used. There's a real opportunity for SSDs to enter the mid-range laptop market and business market with 120-160gig drives.

      Price isn't great now, but the performance is great. Once people get to used to an SSD laptop they'll start to hate their mechanical disk based laptop. They'll be asking "why is this so slow to boot up and why is it slower than yours?" Just like they are now used to multi-c

  • Punny! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by seanmcelroy ( 207852 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:39PM (#35409794) Homepage Journal

    The "hard disk sector" consolidates, hmm?

    For a moment, I did a double take and thought of Stac [].

  • by Xeleema ( 453073 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:40PM (#35409796) Homepage Journal

    "...and to commemorate their latest acquisition, Western Digital announces a new line of ultra-green drives...a spokesman had this to say..."

    "Yep, these drives are so power-conservative, they actually stop consuming power permanently 30% faster than our previous line. We're calling them 'Hitachies'"

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      I prefer the working of "These drives use 30% less power of their lifetime than our previous line".
  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:43PM (#35409860)

    'SSDs are going to fail just like hard drives will,' says Chris Bross, Senior Enterprise Recovery engineer at Drivesavers Data Recovery. 'Every storage device will have issues regardless of their underlying technology.'

    I do not see SSDs playing a major role anywhere near the traditional large database especially in financial institutions. In our trials with PostgreSQL that had 17 tables, the largest of which had 23.1 million records and 9 columns on an DELL notebook, these drives failed after about week of intense read/writes!

    My former boss, who was a closed source stooge blamed the DB. Others like me knew these SSDs were not yet ready for prime-time. By the way all this was about 2 years ago. Technology could have changed for the better now.

    • Not really improved. I burned out a REALLY GOOD (best available) SLC SSD in 7 months with a mirrored production workload at a previous jobsite not that long ago.

      Poof. All gone.

      At the FAST conference, was yet another presentation on SSD lifetime burnout mechanisms, news not actually improving in the slightest so far on life. SLC is not good enough; MLC is toast in write-intensive apps.

      Phase-change memory or one of the others, with millions of write cycles per bit, may pull this out, but Flash is not provi

    • I think both your boss and you need a refresher course in technology.

      Two years ago, Consumer SSD didn't have proper TRIM features. The drive probably didn't die, just needed a wipe and rewrite. And you were probably using consumer grade OCZ drives, and not the better (and way more expensive) commercial drives, which had the better chips in them (and TRIM).

      If you were doing Database transactions on SSDs, you'd realize that there is no way for HDD to compete with SSD in IOPS. If you really wanted and needed I

      • I've tried to do large database server farm tests on modern enterprise SSDs with TRIM, the best wear load leveling, SLC, etc. They go "poof" at moderate (few months, for my loads) lifetimes.

        IOPS x Lifetime / price is a metric I find useful. Unfortunately, it makes SSD look even worse than it does just on a price basis 8-(

    • considering SSDs have only a limited number of write cycles, database work with heavy writes would likely be better served by RAM disks if you want ridiculously low access times and very high speeds. Something along the lines of a HyperOS HyperDrive or an ACard ANS-9010 / 9010B would likely be better suited but those solutions also have their own issues (namely a very steep price and loss of data when the battery runs out)
    • "My former boss, who was a closed source stooge blamed the DB. Others like me knew these SSDs were not yet ready for prime-time. By the way all this was about 2 years ago. Technology could have changed for the better now."

      That is almost certain. First of all, everybody that is serious in the field will tell you that you that that kind of application requires a enterprise (read: SLC flash drive). Chances are that the SSD you've tested with was an older drive with the failed Micron chipset, or maybe even olde

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Enterprise SSD units used to be just lots of DRAM with a big battery and a spinny disk.

      The big battery gave you time to flush the RAM to physical disk in the case of a power loss.

    • by losttoy ( 558557 )
      Ben - Is that you? You're fired.
  • I've never been able to get myself to buy Hitachi drives after the deathstar episode. []

    • by Burdell ( 228580 )

      Just about every major drive vendor has had a similar problem at one point or another. Western Digital's original 3 platter 1.6G drives failed in droves, eventually leading them to replace all of them with a 2 platter version for free. More recently, Seagate had a bad problem with their Barracuda 7200.11 model line; are you also going to avoid Seagate?

      It happens to almost everybody at some point. Do you not buy Intel products because of the Pentium FDIV or F00F bugs? DeWalt power tools used to be great,

    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      The only reason that was momentous (no pun intended) was because it was IBM that it happened to. At the time, they were the authority on reliable storage, and it came as a bit of a shock to everyone.

  • While consolidation can achieve economies of scale, I think any such economies have long been reached. It bothers me when one industry gets down to only 3 or 4 major players. We have seen monopoly-related problems in just about every industry that has gone that way.

    On a different note:

    "But one area that solid-state drives do not improve on their spinning predecessors is in their inevitable movement towards failure."

    I would argue that it's actually much worse. It is possible to recover most or all of the data from most hard drives that fail. Try that with the newer SSDs.

  • by loose electron ( 699583 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:59PM (#35410066) Homepage

    The HDD death has been predicted a few too many times...

    Its still the cheapest storage with easy access out there.

    Consolidation is not only expected, but somewhat necessary.
    I spent 15 years in the HDD industry, and some things to understand:

    - It takes roughly 70 people and 6-9 months to design and develop a new disk drive.
    - product lifetime has been as short as 2 months and as long as 1 year.
    - typical product lifetime is 3-6 months.
    - A company needs to have multiple design teams doing multiple product designs phased for phased product releases.
    If the product is late, its already obolete, and will not sell.
    If the product is slightly behind the times, it will not sell.

    Because of the above NRE expenses are huge, so margins or volumes have got to be huge, to make any money.
    Margins went to nothing many years back, so the volumes need to be huge. Thus fewer players are the results of all that.

    Because of the above, dozens of companies that used to make disk drives are now long gone.

    All of that said, the "death of the HDD has been greatly exaggerated"
    - its cheap, high volume storage, and all in all "fairly" reliable.

  • If my information is correct, the number of defects for SSD's are about the same as HDD's, with the exception of the Intel SSD's, which cut the number of returns in about 4 (can't find the article using Google, if anybody has a link?). I've returned mine because of a failed firmware update to remove a controller bug. I would not be amazed if the actual number of failed drives is about 8 times lower than HDD. So sure they fail, but I think that the failure rate will be more like that of DRAM than HDDs. And c

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Really the biggest complaint I have with SSD's right now are either mobo/chipset manufactures. Or with the people writing the ACHI drivers, and not checking for compatibility. I ran into a lovely bug with my Vertex series(though it applies to nearly all and randomly) drive, it involves suspend and recovery states and a badly written driver.

      When the drive is put into a suspend or sleep state, and you 'wake' the PC up, the drive will randomly lock down the road. And even if it doesn't lock, on a reboot th

    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      I would not be amazed if the actual number of failed drives is about 8 times lower than HDD.

      I would. Who bothers returning/RMAing a failed hard drive if it's one of the cheap models? Or after 2-3 years of use? Hardly anyone. They trash them and get new ones.

    • by llZENll ( 545605 )

      It also has return rates of every computer component, very interesting info.

      For the first time, we also integrate SSDs in this article type. Voici les taux de pannes enregistrés par constructeur : The rates of failure recorded by manufacturer:

      - Intel 0,59% - Intel 0.59%
      - Corsair 2,17% - Corsair 2.17%
      - Crucial 2,25% - Crucial 2.25%
      - Kingston 2,39% - Kingston 2.39%
      - OCZ 2,93% - OCZ 2.93%

      To be recorded the VAS had to be made directly through the merchant, which is not always the case since it is possible

  • Bad news, especially for the enterprise users:

    - HGST drives quality is above the rest of the industry, it may easily change after the acquisition.

    - HGST are often willing to invest in relatively niche products (recent example is 3TB 7.2k drives with SAS interface, no one else makes them). WDC will probably kill any product line that doesn't sell really huge quantities.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Since the MDL drives command a 250-300% premium over their SATA cousins I doubt WDC will kill them off (heck they kept the Raptor line around for forever even though those had to sell a ton less than MDL drives).
  • by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <EnsilZah@ G m a i l . com> on Monday March 07, 2011 @04:20PM (#35410348)

    While SSDs and HDDs serve the same function the technologies are pretty different, so it's much easier for Intel and various RAM manufacturers to start making SSDs than it is for WD to transition to them.
    Last I checked WD's SSDs were just a rebranded product made by some other company.

    I guess Hitachi Global Storage Technologies have all they need to manufacture SSDs in house and I'm assuming the other HDD companies will have to make some acquisitions of their own to stay competitive.

  • ...that the submission should have had a different title:

    Hard Disk Sector Defrags ?
  • 'SSDs are going to fail just like hard drives will'

    Yes they will fail, but the failure modes will be different. No heads to crash into the spinning surface damaging the oxide layer and spreading bits of junk across the rest of the surface of the drive.

    People will still fail to take adequate backups - so there will still be a market for data recovery from failed SSDs - I wonder what it will look like. Pulling the raw flash chips out of a failed SSD will most likely allow an enormous number of bits to be

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