Friday, 12 August 2016 11:00

Where data storage is going – faster, cheaper, better and a whole lot more


Leading storage analyst Tom Coughlin predicts storage needs and trends – his latest forecast is that there will be a 6.2 times (that is a 620%) increase in storage needed for entertainment needs alone by 2021.

The entertainment drivers are simple:

  • 4K and the gradual emergence of 8K content (or shooting in 8K);
  • Digital is now the major medium for recording, editing, and mastering content;
  • Higher image resolution increased frame rates, and multi-camera video;
  • Movie master copies are now in the order of several petabytes (PB);
  • Master Storage alone will grow from around 4.8PB to more than 130,152 PB;
  • Digital copies will occupy 401,215PB;
  • Huge amounts of digital storage will be used for digital conversion and preservation of existing content; and
  • Flash is needed to handle real-time issues in editing.

But Coughlin says it is not just about capacity. The major advances need to be in speed (IOPS or input/output operations per second), transaction (multiple users), power consumption, and accessibility. These are all costly, but flash is the only current technology that may be able to deliver all.

By 2021, spinning disks (HDD) will be used mainly for bulk “cold and semi” active storage and flash for transactions and Hi IOPS. While flash was hundreds of times more expensive to start with in 2013, its now less than 10 times more expensive than spinning disks and in enterprise use pretty much on par if you take power, cooling, and compression into account. That cost difference will continue to narrow.


Seagate says that HDD technology will be relevant for the next 15-20 years, but sales have been decreasing rapidly – 118 million units were shipped in Q3 2015, down from 165 to 175 million per quarter in 2011 and it was relatively stable at 140 million per quarter until the end of 2014 when flash started to take hold.

Seagate may well be right as there are still some legs left in the technology to cram more into a 3.5” form factor. Helium-filled drives have given a 30% increase in capacity. Shingled magnetic recording (SMR) is next off the rank, followed by two-dimensional magnetic recording (TDMR), heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), and heated dot magnetic recording (HDMR) sometime after 2025.

The world’s largest hadr disk vendor, Western Digital, says the future of HDD is shaky, and that accounts for their purchase of SanDisk (a memory maker) this year. It points to the move from desktops to tablets (where HDD have no offering), decreasing costs, decreasing power usage and increasing speeds needed for compute and analytics that only SDD can offer.

Regardless flash memory will get cheaper, faster, more reliable, whereas HDD will simply get bigger.

But flash is not all. DNA storage (or the helical strand style of storage) is coming, offering 2.2PB per gram – a DNA drive the size of a golf ball could hold all the world's current data. Then there are advances in holographic storage (HVD) and quantum storage using atoms and electrons.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!



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