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NAND flash shipments not catching up with traditional disks

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October 5, 2015

Just in case you didn't notice lately, NAND flash shipments are not catching up at all with traditional hard drives.

This has an effect of casting some doubt on the concept that lagacy mechanical disks will disappear from data centres any time soon, according to the latest research from Gartner.

The market research firm Stifel, Aaron & Rakers used data from disk maker Samsung and a few others to tabulate capacity-based shipment data for consumer and enterprise disk and flash storage devices.

The firm notes that Samsung expects the NAND flash industry to have capacity to produce up to 253 exabytes of total storage capacity by 2020, essentially "an impressive 3x increase relative to the current industry capacity".

Rakers points out that this is expected to account for less than ten percent of the total storage capacity the industry will need by the year 2020.

He charted the overall petabytes shipped numbers for disk and flash to get a simpler picture of what's going on in the current market.

The data starts with 2012 and has estimated values for 2016-2019. So the question is, why isn't shipped flash capacity catching up with that of traditional hard drives? As you might have already expected, cost is a big factor in this highly competitive market.

Rakers said that Samsung is estimated to be spending over $23 billion in capacity expansion on its 3D NAND disks for an estimated 10 to 12 exabytes of capacity by 2020.

So let's just assume that on these numbers, every 10,000 PB of NAND capacity costs $20 billion, then to catch up with the capacity that will most likely be shipped in 2019, the flash industry would have to spend about $2 trilion. Yes: that's $2,000 billion!

We don't think it is going to happen unless flash capacity cost per GB leaving the foundry is sustainably lower than that of disk. Time will tell of course but the numbers from Stifel, Aaron & Rakers are certainly an eye opener in what's to come in the next few years.

So, because of severe cost considerations, NAND flash shipments are not catching up at all with traditional hard drives. Of course, this isn't what promoters of NAND technology would want you to believe at this time, but then again, that's an entirely different matter.

Source: Stifel, Aaron & Rakers Market Research.

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