Predicting the Death of Magnetic Hard Disk Drives

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Posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Predicting the death of any technology is a risky business. Magnetic tape storage continues to thrive for instance, decades after experts first suggested its demise was imminent.

But when it comes to magnetic hard drives, the writing is (apparently) on the wall. So when can we expect to see the medium retire?

Price parity with flash

Flash is undeniably the future of data storage. Faster, more efficient, and offering higher capacities, SSDs are the storage medium of choice for frontline operations. 

As you would expect, the benefits of flash come at a premium, giving spinning disks a per-gigabyte advantage. Once prices reach parity, the cost incentive for buying hard drives disappears.

Capacity

While hard drive manufacturers are still celebrating the release of their first 14TB units, flash manufacturers are way ahead in terms of capacity. This year we have seen 64TB and 85TB SSDs released:  nearly 600-800% more capacity in a much faster format, with a much smaller physical footprint.

Unless there is a quantum advance in hard drive technology soon, magnetic disks will not be able to keep up– or to deliver on demands for increased storage capacity in the data center.

Speed

Enterprise-class hard disk drives operate at the very edge of stability, rotating at 10,000rpm. Without a further increase in speed, they cannot come close to the read/write IO performance of SSDs, which is why flash is now preferred for line-of-business applications where performance is paramount. 

Again, unless there is a quantum advance in hard drive technology (there’s no sign of one coming), the format will be left behind.

Development of hard drives continues

Manufacturers like Seagate continue to invest in hard drive technology, however. Why? Mainly because the price disparity between magnetic and flash drives is still so great. 

Flash is still too expensive for use in secondary or archiving operations. So businesses will continue to deploy hard disk drive arrays for these applications, taking advantage of the modest increases provided by helium-filled units and other options until they finally retire the format altogether.

As things stand, magnetic disk storage has at least a few years left before it is finally killed by flash.

For more help and advice on managing and maintaining your magnetic disk arrays until they can be replaced with a new flash alternative, please get in touch.

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