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.


3 thoughts on “Hybrid Drives Not Catching On”

  1. Jim interesting points and perspectives, as somebody who has been using the desktop/consumer/client class HHDDs (e.g. STX Momentus XTs) (the ones that did some read acceleraiton) since they came out several years ago, as well as some of the newer enterprise class SSHDs (the ones that accelerate writes), here are some observations.

    In talking with IT professionals (e.g. what the vendors/industry calls users/customers) they are generally not aware that these devices exist, or if they are aware of them, they are only aware of what was available in the past (e.g. the consumer class read optimized versions). I do talk with some who are aware of the newer generation devices however their comments are usually tied to lack of system integrator (SI) or vendor/OEM support, or sole source. Also there was a focus on promoting the HHDDs to “gamers” or other power users as opposed to broader marketing efforts. Also most of these IT people are not aware of the newer generation of SSHD or what Seagate is now calling “Turbo” drives.

    When talking with VARs, there is a similar reaction which is discussion about lack of support for HHDDs or SSHDs from the SI/vendor OEMs, or single source supply concerns. Also a common reaction is lack of awareness around current generation of SSHDs (e.g. those that do write optimization, as well as enterprise class versions).

    When talking with vendors/OEMs, there is a general lack of awareness of the newer enterprise class SSHDs/HHDDs that do write acceleration, in some cases there is concern of how this would disrupt their “hybrid” SSD + HDD or tiering marketing stories/strategies, as well as comments about single source suppliers. Have also heard comments to the effect of concerns about how long or committed are the drive manufactures going to be focused on SSHD/HHDD, or is this just a gap filler for now.

    Not surprisingly when I talk with industry pundits, influencers, amplifiers (e.g. analyst, media, consultants, blogalysts) there is a reflection of all the above which is lack of awareness of what is currently available (not to mention lack of actual experience) vs. repeating what has been heard or read about in the past.

    IMHO while there are some technology hurdles, the biggest issue and challenge is that of some basic marketing and business development to generate awareness with the industry (e.g. pundits), vendors/OEMs, vars, and IT customers, that is of course assuming SSHD/HHDD are here to stay and not just a passing fad…

    For those interested, here are some additional reading and perspectives:

    More Storage IO momentus HHDD and SSD moments part I

    SSD past, present and future with Jim Handy

    Part II: How many IOPS can a HDD, HHDD or SSD do with VMware?

    Enterprise SSHD and Flash SSD Part of an Enterprise Tiered Storage Strategy (Includes benchmarks of various devices)

    Cheers gs

    1. Greg,

      Good observations. It seems that Seagate has two options: 1) Keep it differentiated from their other products and market the heck out of it (which they haven’t done) or 2) Make it their standard offering and shine in the fact that Seagate’s SSDs outperform the competition.

      Either would be a good plan.

      Thanks for the comment,


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