Look Ma, everyone is doing it. That seems to be the cry of the big drive makers these days when it comes to SSDs [Solid State Drives]. All except for Seagate, that is.
Solid State drives have been in the news with their high-speed, small form factor and high prices. But what is interesting is that this fairly new technology did not come out of the big drive makers first. It started with smaller memory companies and other players like Intel.
Now the SSD market has become such a driving force that Western Digital just shelled out about $65 million for SiliconSystems a Viejo, California based SSD maker. Western Digital did this to complement their line of note and netbook HDD [hard disk drive] offerings. But it also opens up a path to enterprise class SSD products as well as newer video recording equipment that has moved to a 2.5-inch SATA connection.
So this puts almost all of the major players in the SSD market again, all except for Seagate. Last year we had asked Seagate about Solid State drives and was only told they were in the working. Bear in mind this is the company that announced Hybrid SSD/HDD drives on CES 2007. This seemed odd to us as the SSD momentum was building. At the time when everyone was dropping SSDs with huge price tags Seagate was working on SAS drives with a 2.5-inch form factor for the enterprise and not talking about SSD at all.
Then, on Computex Taipei in June 2008, Seagate dropped the bomb. DRAMeXchange Forum featured a certain Seagate executive who openly criticized SSD technology and claimed that it won't gain any foothold in the next couple of years, as there are "numerous problems with the technology", criticized pricing while at the same time - it was clear that pricing of SSD drives is being cut in half every nine months.
This may seem like odd behavior but there may be a method behind the madness. While SSDs are undeniably fast they do have a very finite lifetime in terms of performance and the number of times they can be written to. Magnetic media, like those used in traditional drives has a significantly longer life and can be used with a greater feeling of longevity in a high-throughput enterprise application. So by focusing on the enterprise market and producing high-speed, low-power small form factor drives Seagate might be avoiding the pitfalls that today’s NAND SSDs may hit in the next few years. Seagate has also given greater performance with “in-place” technology which helps to reduce upkeep costs.
We are not saying that Seagate is not going to offer and SSD; in fact after the Western Digital Announcement we contacted Seagate and asked for their reaction to this news. The reply we received hinted at things on the horizon by saying that "Seagate would be starting with SSDs in the enterprise as this is where they make the most sense".
Perhaps the low level fragmentation and write lifetime issues are being resolved to a point where Seagate feels comfortable enough to enter this critical market. But time is running out - companies like Fusion-io and OCZ are already offering enterprise-class SSD in a form of SATA/SAS-unbound PCIe cards, while numerous memory manufacturers are coming to market with their SSDs.
One thing is certain - Windows 7 is coming out with the "Optimized for SSD" tag line for this year's Back-To-School. If Seagate doesn't wake up, it will get skipped. Given the fact that the company lost a lot of credibility with Barracuda 7200.11 series, missing out on SSDs would seriously limit any growth potential.
UPDATED March 31st, 2009, 00:20AM UTC - After speaking with David Szabados with Seagate Enterprise it seems that Seagate has chosen to wait and ensure that initial problems with early models, such as the write table fragmentation, have been addressed and viable solutions in place before releasing an SSD offering. Since Seagate will cater to the Enterprise market first they also needed to ensure that there were standards in place for performance, reliability, endurance to ensure that their enterprise customers were getting a reliable product.
This choice to wait should bring about products that will work as they are intended to every time you run them. It will also provide for a better separation of products into their proper markets.
Seagate's first SSD should arrive sometime this year, if they follow the same trend they have with their other Enterprise products this one will be very impressive too.
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