Hybrid Drives Not Catching On

Seagate Momentus SSHD press photoSeagate announced last week that the company had shipped a total of 10 million Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHDs) over the lifetime of the product.  This is far short of expectations by The SSD Guy and a number of other analysts and industry participants.

Why were our expectations higher?  There were a few reasons:

  • The hybrid drive can be viewed as an evolution of the DRAM cache already incorporated into nearly all HDDs today.  Replacing or augmenting an expensive DRAM cache with a slower, cheaper NAND cache makes a lot of sense.
  • An SSHD performs significantly better than a standard HDD at a lower price than an SSD.  In fact, an SSD of the same capacity as today’s average HDD would cost about an order of magnitude more than the HDD.  The beauty of an SSHD is that it provides near-SSD performance at a near-HDD price.  This could have been a very compelling sales proposition had it been promoted in a way that was understood and embraced by end users.
  • Some expected for Seagate to include this technology into all HDDs rather than to try and continue using it as a differentiator between different Seagate product lines.  The company could have taken either of two approaches: To use hybrid technology to break apart two product lines – standard HDDs and higher-margin hybrid HDDs, or to incorporate hybrid technology into all Seagate HDDs to differentiate Seagate HDDs from competitors’ products, allowing Seagate to take slightly higher margins on all HDDs.  Seagate chose the first path.

The net result is shipments of 10 million units since its 2010 introduction, for an average of 2.5 million per year, out of a total annual HDD shipments of around 500 million units, or one half of one percent.

Although both Western Digital and Toshiba both announced SSHDs one year ago, it does not appear that either of these companies has shipped any.  This tells us that they would be able to respond rapidly if Seagate changed its strategy and started to ship a NAND flash cache in all of its drive models.  In other words, it is still quite possible for HDDs to rapidly be displaced by SSHDs, should Seagate change its strategy.

Readers who wish to learn more about the solid state hybrid drive may want to read Objective Analysis’ October 2010 report Are Hybrid Drives Finally Coming of Age? which can be purchased for immediate download at the link above.  Although this report’s forecast was optimistic, based on the idea that the technology would be heavily promoted by Seagate and others, the remainder of the report accurately explains the technology, the performance, and the interaction that could eventually occur between HDDs, SSHDs, and SSDs to allow the SSHD to displace both standard HDDs and SSDs.


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