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Seagate bets on hybrid storage

Seagate bets on hybrid storage

Seagate's Steve Luczo believes the future is in hybrid storage, like his company's Momentus drives.

Storage specialist Seagate has continued its traditional stance against solid-state storage, with chief executive Steve Luczo taking over from anti-SSD campaigner Bill Watkins despite his company's launch of several solid-state devices.

Back in 2008 then-chief executive Bill Watkins poured scorn on SSDs, claiming that he didn't 'see the flash notebook selling.' Although Watkins would leave the company in 2009, somewhat ironically to join the board of flash storage specialist Vertical Circuits, it looks like his replacement, Steve Luczo, is no more convinced by the technology.

During the company's regular conference call with investors and analysts, Luczo responded to a question about the new Apple MacBook Air - which is only available with solid-state storage - with the statement that 'I would say though that from what we know of the offering of, for example Apple, the percentage of their units that they sell with SSDs versus HDDs is a tiny fraction - I think it’s under 3 per cent, certainly under 5 per cent.'

Luczo went on to state that while 'there are certain things that are certainly very nice about [SSD storage, there are] other things that are a little bit frustrating: the cost and the lack of capacity.'

Laying out his frustrations with the technology, that included spending 'a lot of time cleaning out files so I can make room for not a lot of content' and longevity issues that mean 'my SSD drive takes about 25, 30 seconds to boot now versus the 12 seconds when I bought it,' Luczo went on to explain what he sees as the future of storage: the hybrid drive.

Detailing the company's work in the field of hybrid storage, which combines a small flash-based SSD with a larger mechanical hard drive, Luczo explained to the analyst that 'with the additional layer of caching [available in hybrid drives] we believe that downstream, from a product perspective, there will be performance advantages to [hybrid] SSD whether or not that has to do with instant on or application load or what a load looks like year or two after you have your product versus that day you buy it.'

With the majority of the industry concentrating on improving longevity and capacity on pure flash-based solid-state storage devices, it remains to be seen if Seagate's clear focus on hybrid drives will pay off in the long run.

Would a hybrid drive offer you the increased performance and high capacity that you're craving from a storage device, or is Luczo sending the company down the wrong path? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

16 Comments

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Ph4ZeD 26th October 2010, 10:33 Quote
Really misguided approach. SSD prices keep falling and sales will keep rocketing.
Flibblebot 26th October 2010, 10:36 Quote
So, effectively all he's talking about is an increased cache size, with that cache taking the form of SSD rather than RAM?

Not entirely sure of the point, tbh, especially since it doesn't really get round the problems he cites: longevity & cost.
bulldogjeff 26th October 2010, 10:44 Quote
I've seen 500Gb drives @£78 when you consider the performace increase over a normal drive it makes perfectly good sense, when SSD's drop to about £50 for a 128gig drive it'll start to really temp people away from normal drives. But what about the cost of a 1 terra byte SSD when they get round to producing them. I think bloody frightening would be the word. So for now these drive still have a place in our PC's.
l3v1ck 26th October 2010, 10:47 Quote
I can see only one reason people would want a hybrid SSD/HDD. There isn't enough room in their laptop for two seperate drives.
I'd like the speed of an SSD for my OS, but the capacity and reliability (including use for a page file) of a HDD in mine, but the design only allows for one to be fitted.
If I did by a hybrid, I'd want each part to show up as a different drive in the OS so I could control what software/data went where.
Moriquendi 26th October 2010, 11:08 Quote
The advantage of a hybrid drive is that you can have a much larger cache of flash compared to dram because it's significantly cheaper. As with all cache systems there will be a routine in the controller that tries to predict what data is going to be needed next, the larger the cache the better the chance of finding the data in cache rather than having to go to the disk for it (at least an order of magnitude slower).

The idea is that with a hybrid drive you get the advantages of a SSD with the capacity of a HDD, if they can get the cache controller to work effectively then you should see 90% of the performance of an SSD at a price only slightly higher than a HDD.

Moriquendi
Fractal 26th October 2010, 11:17 Quote
This is a very short-sighted approach that ignores accepted trends like Moores Law. It is estimated that 15000rpm HDD storage and SLC SSD storage will cost the same per GB by 2017 (http://wikibon.org/wiki/v/Flash_Pricing_Trends_Disrupt_Storage). RIP Seagate.
JaredC01 26th October 2010, 11:47 Quote
Once 2017 comes around, I'm sure their priorities will have changed...

For now, I can't see this doing anything but good. From what I gather, it's basically a large cache for the mechanical drive, meaning you can write 20~30 gigs of data at the speed of an SSD, that get stored in the 'cache' SSD portion, and transferred to the mechanical drive as the mechanical drive can write it. From a read standpoint, I imagine there will be some 'intelligent' managing of what data is most often fetched, and that data will be stored in the SSD portion of the hybrid drive.

Basically, everything I'd want in a hard drive. I get my high capacity drive with the speed of an SSD (assuming you're not writing a single file that takes up more than the SSD portion of the HDD can hold).

By all means, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like this is what they're trying to achieve.
yakyb 26th October 2010, 12:09 Quote
its an either or question for me,

either i want lots of storage, or i want fast access for what i'm using currently

therefore i have an SSD for open projects + OS and a 1TB green drive for long term storage

i cannot currently see the reason why i would want a 1TB SSD other than for pure speed on all my game installations
cgthomas 26th October 2010, 13:04 Quote
SSD will replace Hard Disks in the near future, say 6 to 7 years to be reasonable.
By that time a new and improved means of storage will appear. If something gets the job done in a better way then surely it will replace whateverhas been used to that point.

I'm waiting for SSD's to drop more in price and i will replace my HDD's with them.
leexgx 26th October 2010, 13:07 Quote
the currant drive they have works very well, if they made one with 8gb i think that be very good (but on daily basis what would fill 4gb of flash up apart from games If they are opened on an daily basis)

the currant segate XT drives are quite good for RAID as you can raid 4 of them to get 16GB of cacheable data and 2TB of disk space for the price of of XT drive is quite good

the XT drive cache is for Read only and it works at the LBA level so does not matter what OS, file system or hardware its running on all the drive cares about is what parts of the disk are been read the most, so if LBA block say 2234 is read 2-5 times it will copy that into the cache so next time it will read from flash only means the disk could do 2 i/o operations at the same time if first one was cached and the second one was an disk read or write (AHCI or RAID should be enabled for NCQ to work)
shanky887614 26th October 2010, 15:23 Quote
you dont really need a lot of storage in an ssd drive

think about it, most people will just use a small ssd for pc

and the people who know they will be using a lot of data will add a traditional 3.5inch hardrive

untill a 200gb+ comes on the market for under £50 i cant see them becoming very mainstream just becasue of the cost

it will eventually happen, look at that reseach place that managed to get a proof of conept 1 of a 1tb ssd the size of a postage stamo (they say they will have working prototype in 2012)
xaser04 26th October 2010, 16:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by shanky887614
you dont really need a lot of storage in an ssd drive

Whilst this is true (most are used for boot / game drives) remember that due to their design they are faster the larger the capacity they are* (as they write to all memory modules at once in parrallel).

*Assuming you compare from the same product range.

I am holding off on a SSD purchase until my next big build, mainly beacuse I can spec it properly and also because I can take advantage of the latest drives at that time (they only seem to be getting better).
bobwya 26th October 2010, 20:25 Quote
I can actually make an informed comment on this article (cough, cough). I have both a 160Gb Intel G2 SSD and a 500Gb Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid drive (just to try out really).

The Seagate drive is good but not in the same league as the Intel drive.
But it is noticeably better than a regular mechanical drive for repeated accesses to data. E.g. if you are like me and die a lot in games :-) - then reloading a saved game can be 1-2 seconds vs. 20 seconds (really noticed that one...) Loading levels, that you have not played in the current session, = not much difference. Virtual box installed on the hybrid drive has noticeably less stutter (vs. a 300Gb Velociraptor).
Definitely good for a laptop - where it can be a hassle to carry around external drives. The price is also OK for the current crop of hybrids.

Also don't forget the users of Windows XP or GNU/Linux, etc. who may not have trim support built into their OS. Again a hybrid drive with an SSD "read-cache" has it's plus points...
Cthippo 27th October 2010, 03:13 Quote
From my perspective, the size argument is a bit irrelevant. My current computer has a 73GB drive in it and is connected over the network to a 1TB fileserver. When the opportunity arises I will snap up a speedy little 64GB SSD and be happy with that for quite some time. A lot of applications don't NEED 500GB or 1TB drives, especially the mobile ones that are becoming so popular. Mechanical drives for bulk storage will be around for quite a while, but then so are tape drives.
Andy Mc 27th October 2010, 04:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
Mechanical drives for bulk storage will be around for quite a while, but then so are tape drives.


Tapes will have a little more life left in them yet as they are very good for archiving and it is cheaper to replace a duff tape than a dead HD.
aziraphale 27th October 2010, 12:22 Quote
I have been using the current Seagate offering a Momentus XT (500gb) for 3 weeks now. Overall the drive is great improvement over the current pure mechanical units. Vista64 boot up times are very nearly 50% faster and commonly used apps are damn fast not quite SSD speeds but not far off.

However this current Hybrid does have spindown issues, Seagate did issue a firmware update to solve this which it fails to do. Setting the OS power options also fail to register with the drive and if you are thinking about installing one of these in Macbook don't. The Seagate Momentus forums are full people with issues in Mac's.

As a first attempt at a modern Hybrid drive, it works and is the way forward at least till SSD's get a lot bigger and cheaper. Hopefully Seagate will fix the issues with this current generation and expand it for the generation of these drives.
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