With their fast speed, large capacity, and reasonable cost, hybrid hard disk drives are poised for more widespread adoption. By Sharon Florentine
November 21, 2011
With their fast speed, large capacity, and reasonable cost, hybrid hard disk drives are poised for more widespread adoption.
By Sharon Florentine
Attached storage has always been a compromise between speed and capacity. If customers want lightning-fast access to stored data, they forgo capacity. If they want huge capacity, speed is sacrificed. But hybrid hard disk drives (HHDDs) are changing the way system builders, VARs, and their customers look at attached storage, promising an ideal middle ground between pricey and fast solid-state drives (SSDs) and low-cost, slow, yet high-capacity hard disk drives (HDDs).
This trifecta of speed, capacity, and affordability is particularly attractive to SMBs. “The biggest challenge with HHDDs is helping customers understand what they are [and] what they can and can’t do,” says Greg Schulz, founder and senior adviser at the Server and StorageIO Group. Once the education process is complete, though, VARs and system builders can introduce the technology as a logical step to upgrading clients’ existing hardware. “Since the HHDD market is relatively new, it’s a snap for system builders to differentiate themselves from OEMs focused on either HDDs or SSDs,” notes Schulz.
Of course, there are drawbacks to any new technology, and HHDDs are no exception. “If you look at each component, they have their issues,” says Schulz. “You can only write to an SSD a certain number of times, which means carefully weighing the decision to store data on that portion of the drive. And with traditional HDDs, of course, they are mechanical—every time data is stored there and the drive has to move, there’s a greater chance for the mechanics to break down. The beauty of HHDDs is that they mitigate the risk of both weaknesses.”
Seagate Technology LLC, in Cupertino, Calif., has been at the forefront of innovation in the HHDD space, one of only a handful of storage hardware manufacturers to devote resources to the technology. Many storage vendors and OEMs are hesitant to enter the market for fear that margins will shrink quickly, just as they have on other hardware components. Many OEMs also believe that HHDDs will be a threat to their existing HDD and/or SSD sales, although Schulz says that’s not necessarily the case. HHDDs should be viewed as a companion technology, he says. “Those other technologies have their very specialized niches in the markets, and that’ll never go away.”
OEMs are certainly aware of the technology, although there is reluctance to invest in a product that can be difficult to architect. “The [Momentus XT HHDD] is our third iteration of the technology,” says Joni Clark, product marketing manager at Seagate. “We’ve been trying for years to find that perfect balance of performance, capacity, and price point, and though we’re really close with the Momentus XT, we know there’s always room for improvement.”
For builders who take a chance on HHDDs, the market is wide open. According to research firm IDC, 25 percent of desktops and laptops sold in the next four years will ship with HHDDs, compared with 13 percent shipping with SSDs. Even though the technology is fairly new, the demand and adoption curve is astounding, according to Clark, and Seagate is gaining traction with system builders and their customers. From the Momentus XT’s introduction in 2009, the company has sold more than 1 million units, and expects to double those sales by 2012.
Although demand for the technology is growing, sales are still largely focused in niche markets such as research and development, gaming, and prosumers, Clark says. However, she expects that to change quickly as the technology evolves to include native data encryption and other built-in security features that will appeal to customers who are required by law to maintain confidentiality, privacy, and heightened security.
“Right now a lot of system builders and solution providers who serve vertical markets like healthcare, legal, financial, and education could benefit from HHDDs, but the barrier is the encryption, the security, and integrity of the data they would store on these drives,” says Clark. “Once the security and encryption are built in, we think the market is going to explode.”
SHARON FLORENTINE is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who has covered topics ranging from solid-state disk drives to holistic veterinary care.