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SSDs get bigger, while prices get smaller

News Analysis
May 22, 20184 mins
Data Center

An oversupply of memory chips, plus aggressive pricing by SSD suppliers are causing SSD prices to drop, while the capacity of drives continues to increase.

2 data center servers
Credit: Thinkstock

With so much going on in the enterprise storage world, two bits of good news have come out — capacity is going up, and prices are coming down.

According to the report from DRAMeXchange, the enterprise SSD market has been growing fast. It projects enterprise SSD sales to top 30 million units this year, up from fewer than 20 million units in 2016, and that rate of growth is expected to continue in the next three years.

[ Also read: Cost-savings theme pervades IBM storage news. | Get daily insights by signing up for Network World newsletters. ]

That’s despite tight supply for memory chips in the first quarter resulting in high average selling prices. For the second quarter, which we are in the midst of, DRAMeXchange expects a rebound in demand due to increased supply.

“The oversupply will continue in NAND Flash market, where suppliers face the pressure to consume production capacity,” says Alan Chen, research director at DRAMeXchange, in a statement. The firm predicts that the average contract price of enterprise PCIe SSD and SATA SSD may fall by 10 percent or more in the quarter.

In addition to the oversupply, some suppliers of enterprise SSD have applied aggressive price strategies to win more orders from OEMs and to acquire higher market share. So, the buyer is the winner in all of this.

New type of SSD from Intel and Micron

All of this comes as a new type of SSD hits the market, the quad-level cell (QLC) NAND flash memory jointly developed by Intel and Micron. NAND flash memory chips have billions and billions of cells that hold one or more bits of information. The first SSDs were single-level cell (SLC), so one bit per cell. Then came two-bits (MLC) and three bits (TLC) per cell. This tripled capacity in the same space.

The tradeoff is that TLC drives are a little slower than SLC and are thought to have a shorter lifespan, although a 2016 study threw cold water on that. For that reason, there are some enterprise SSDs that use SLC instead of multi-level cells. However, most SSDs, enterprise and consumer, use TLC for maximum capacity.

Western Digital, the granddaddy of hard-drive makers, was the first to announce QLC but Intel and Micron beat them to market. Not a surprise, really, Western Digital has enormous resources, but it’s a har-disk maker. Intel and Micro live this stuff.

If it’s not obvious, QLC drives will have 33 percent more capacity than TLC with the same number of chips. That said, the new 5210 ION series QLC drive does come with reduced write performance and endurance. QLC NAND has lower write endurance of around 1,000 program/erase cycles per block. A program erase cycle is how many times a block can be erased and data overwritten before it no longer works. By contrast, TLC drives have 3,000 to 5,000 PE cycles, and SLC has more than 100,000 PE cycles.

What really counts is the device writes per day (DWPD) rating. The DWPD rating is how many times you can overwrite the entire capacity of the SSD before it becomes unreliable. A rating of 1 DPWD means a drive with 1TB capacity can write 1TB of data to disk per day every day for the length of the warranty — usually three years, sometimes five — and not fail. A DWPD of 0.5 means 500GB written to a 1TB drive per day every day for its warranty period without failure. So, that number will be a good measure of how durable QLC really is.

With capacity of 2TB to 8TB, Micron is primarily marketing the 5210 ION as a replacement for hard drives and is positioning it for databases apps such as ERP, big data, content streaming and artificial intelligence. This is a switch from the usual place for SSDs, which is fast access to most frequently used data and serving as a cache to higher capacity hard drives. Because of its slower write speed, Micron is positioning the 5210 ION for high-read usage cases, not high-write use cases.

Nimbus Data announces 50TB and 100TB flash drives

If a 8TB drive isn’t enough for you, Nimbus Data just announced a 50TB and a 100TB flash drive. The drives come in 3.5-inch form factors, the same as regular hard drives, while being super energy efficient, using just 0.1 watt per terabyte.

The 100TB ExaDrive DC100 is slated to launch this summer, and will come with a five-year “unlimited endurance guarantee.” Not surprisingly, the price was not announced, but Nimbus Data said “pricing will be similar to existing enterprise SSDs on a per terabyte basis.”

Given that a Samsung 1TB enterprise SSD costs $539, I’m not betting on them selling a whole hell of a lot of drives.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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