It’s a pretty bold statement to make and one we’ve heard from several people at Pure Storage, including in the Pure Accelerate 2023 keynote from CEO Charlie Giancarlo. Can we really expect no new HDDs to be sold within five years?
First of all, we should say that Pure Storage has a vested interest in making bold statements on the death of the hard drive. The company was founded on the principle of all-flash storage. However, it’s a message we hear more often across the industry. The “death of the hard drive” is also a mantra originally used by VAST Data. We should dig into the detail of precisely what Pure Storage are claiming before we comment further.
The screenshot used in this article shows the tagline being used.
“By 2028, No New HDDs Sold”Pure Storage
The key word in this sentence, for me, is “new”. What does “new” mean in this context?
If you’re in the UK, then “new” can mean many things. For example, a few years ago, the UK government of Boris Johnson proclaimed 40 “new” hospitals would be built. It turns out that “new” in this context could be anything from an entirely new facility to a major refurbishment. It certainly didn’t mean what the general public expected – 40 completely new hospitals.
By 2028, what will a “new” HDD look like? Today, the two main technologies driving capacity improvements are HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) and MAMR (microwave-assisted magnetic recording). Both technologies look to stabilise the recording process as the size of individual grains on an HDD surface continues to shrink.
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What if there are no new technologies coming along behind MAMR and HAMR? As these two recording techniques mature and become mainstream, does an HDD need to have an as-yet unannounced recording technology to be called “new”?
Is the era of HDD evolution over, or are new innovations still possible? Drive shipments dropped dramatically in Q1 2023 (35% year on year, as reported here), while the market leader Seagate struggled with a terrible financial Q3 set of results (see this report). With innovation getting harder to achieve, is there the money, desire, and the technology still left in the HDD market?
The Architect’s View®
Ultimately, this is the question Pure Storage is posing. It’s hard to imagine that HDD vendors won’t continue to sell drives for the next 5-10 years. The question is whether those drives will contain any new innovation. Increasingly, the primary customer for HDDs will continue to be the hyper-scaler. Flash in the form of NAND continues to increase in capacity and reduce in $/GB cost. The argument for retaining a hard-drive platform in the on-premises data centre reduces every year.
We think that there’s a good chance the HDD market will reach a point of equilibrium where new research and development innovation isn’t justifiable. Drives will continue to be manufactured and sold only while there is still a clear separation between the TCO of HDD systems compared to flash systems. At this point, drive vendors will consolidate further, as the market will not see any competitive issues in having only one or two manufacturers.
Whether 2028 will be the cut-off point for future innovation remains to be seen. We will be watching.
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