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OCZ Core SSDs start at $169 for 32GB and top out at $479 for 128GB.
Fujitsu's leadership says flash technology is too problematic, despite the market trend

Solid state drives (SSD) have been seeing gains in marketshare thanks to aggressive pricing and impressive capacity increases.  Proponents include manufacturers Dell, ASUS, Toshiba, and Apple which offer models with the drives.  These supporters tout the drives as delivering faster reads/writes and offering large power savings, especially essential in the laptop market.

However, not all are impressed with the drives.  Hard drive maker Seagate, despite working on the development of the devices, argues that they are not ready for the market and the only way that they're gaining traction is by unprofitable price cutting which threatens to sink the entire storage industry.  Seagate feels so passionately on the topic that they have made good on plans to start suing SSD makers who use designs which infringe on the company's large intellectual property library.

It now looks like Seagate may have found an unlikely ally in its opposition to SSDs -- Fujitsu.  Fujitsu Siemens, a joint venture between Fujitsu (Japanese) and the struggling German Siemens conglomerate, is a major player in the PC market, despite not being in the top five in terms of sales.

Many have noticed that the company has failed to develop a product utilizing a SSD drive or a hybrid half flash/half traditional drive, despite having numerous product lines.  According to a recent interview by ComputerWorld with Joel Hagberg, Fujitsu's vice president of business development, the lack of SSD is a purposeful decision.

Mr. Hagberg states, "There is a place for flash. Right now, that's random-read performance, such as relational database look-ups, tables, etc. But the big question that's been posed to Fujitsu is why haven't we come out with a flash drive product, and what do we think about enterprise disk drives, because there are executives from companies in the Northeast claiming that enterprise disk drives will be dead within two years? I think that's definitely overstating the capability of solid state."

Fujitsu will not adopt the technology, according to Mr. Hagberg, until manufacturers "resolve the performance problems of solid state in sequential reads and writes as well as random writes."

He continues, "Every manufacturer has launched a notebook with a solid-state disk drive. And, almost universally, there has been a customer-satisfaction issue because they're hyped for performance, and people get them and don't realize what [manufacturers] mean is [NAND] flash is really good if you're reading stuff, but it doesn't work very well for large file reads and large file writes, and it doesn't work well for random writes."

He says boot times are often no faster, and that power consumption isn't much improved often amounting only to a meager five percent, or 15 min of life on a five-hour battery.  He argues that hybrid drives are attempts to deal with the shortcomings of flash, but they don't succeed very well at this mark.

Further, Mr. Hagberg argues that there are reliability and lifetime issues, stating that for a flash drive "100,000 writes as a spec across the industry, and with MLC [multilevel cell] solid-state disk, you may reduce it to one-tenth of that or less -- 10,000 writes per cell with two bits, or maybe even 1,000 writes per cell with three or four bits per cell."

He states that the tech is good for certain markets, acknowledging, "Solid-state drives are good in some narrow niche applications where you're focused on random reads. They're great for handhelds, cell phones, iPods, MP3 players."

In time, improvements in technologies like wear leveling and new flash-like technologies like phase-change memory or MRAM may solve much of the problems of flash and allow it to dominate the storage industry, he believes.   He also insists that he is unbiased, stating, "I'm not saying something to slander a technology because we don't have a device. That would be meaningless. If a technology performs better than I'm stating, then my opinion is mitigated."

Perhaps the strongest evidence Mr. Hagberg provides in support of his stance is sales numbers and analysis.  He cites that John Monroe of Gartner, estimated 2007 shipments of solid-state notebooks were about 98,000 -- out of about 120 to 130 million computers shipped.  And, Mr. Hagberg adds, most of those users wouldn't buy another one due to dissatisfaction.

He concludes with a bold prediction, stating, "From a value in terms of dollars per gigabyte, as well as the I/O read/write data rate, disk drives are still not threatened by solid state in the mainstream enterprise server market or in the notebook space. The vast majority -- 90%-plus -- of shipments over the next few years will still be hard disk drives."

Fujitsu's vocal opposition to SSDs will certainly be music to Seagate's ears.  And it is hard to deny the fact that many companies are pushing SSD strongly, while only seeing meager sales.  Fujitsu has been in the storage business since 1968 and still has strong hard drive manufacturing holdings.  More than most companies it treads the line between a PC manufacturer and a component manufacturer.

However, if Fujitsu and Seagate are right, then why does the industry's giants like Dell and Apple insist on SSDs?  The answer boils down to public opinion, and really only time can tell which side's view holds more truth.





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