NAND, Flash, SSDs and HDDs - what's happening?
It was only a year ago that a shortage of NAND, due to high demand from smart phone producers and a restructuring of manufacturing, meant SSD prices remained high, too high for many to consider them an alternative to HDDs for data storage. How times have changed. We now have a global over-supply of NAND, and it’s a supply that’s growing by 15% a year.
Intel’s fabrication plant in Dalian, China is doubling its capacity. Samsung is increasing the output of its Chinese plant in Xian, due to come on stream next year and the firm’s new plant in Korea began production this year. There are many others coming on stream soon.
As it costs in the region of $10bn to open a NAND fabrication plant, those suppliers splashing the cash are clearly serious about continuing supply at this level and must, therefore, expect to see demand continuing to grow. But will it?
True, demand is currently growing by 5% a year. As the network of connected devices grows - the Internet of Things - demand for data storage rises and the very nature of the instantaneous, fast retrieval needed by IoT means NAND will be the method of choice. But that’s still some way behind the current growth in supply.
SSD prices are expected to start to drop as the producers’ strategy to get the price down to a comparable point to challenge HDDs kicks in. Few, however, expect we will see parity.
HDD providers are responding to this sector development by enhancing the advantage disks have over Flash; capacity. Storage density can be increased, for example, via the use of SMR (Shingle Magnetic Recording) where data is stored on overlapping grooves.
Seagate and Western Digital are both investing heavily in HDDs, which is evidence that there are no immediate concerns that cheaper SSDs will steal the HDD market. While speed is the USP for Flash, it’s capacity that gives the disks their edge. As there will be no profit is selling, say, 4TB disks, the future lies in high capacity. Seagate is predicting we will see 100TB HDDs by 2025, using HAMR technology. Western Digital is putting its faith in the alternative technology MAMR.
This innovation is much needed. According to IBM, the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. And as this opinion piece from Exertis Hammer shows, there is some high level innovation taking place in the industry to ensure data storage continues to meet this fast-growing demand.
Do you have the connectivity and storage to cope with AI?
With artificial intelligence and machine learning, computers can match – even surpass – the cognitive skills of humans. Out goes the need for humans to conceive every possible scenario, in comes the ability for the machines to learn and reason for themselves, in super-fast time and based on masses of real-time data that they, and other connected machines, collect and share.
It still poses the question, is AI still just a concept in development, or will we start to see it moving into the mainstream? In reality, it’s already here; planes flying on autopilot, the Waze real-time traffic congestion app, email spam filters, Google search terms, shopping recommendations on Amazon and face recognition on Facebook are all examples of AI in action. Gartner has stated that AI will be one of the major trends which will shape future technologies.
Underpinning this are the dramatic improvements in storage and connectivity. Everything is faster and more powerful meaning functions can now be performed that were not possible 10 years ago. That’s why connectivity is key. CIO.com states: “Extreme volumes of data must be collected and processed in real time. Networks built as recently as 10 years ago weren’t required to collect, route, and process this vast amount of data at real-time speeds. Typical networks [are] far too cumbersome to handle today’s AI and machine learning applications.” The answer to become AI-ready is to have AI-ready networks as well as the storage capacity.
At the heart of AI lies analytics. “AI is high performance computing. It can go from GPU to GPU (graphics processing unit) without going through a CPU. Everything is HPC based,” said Exertis Hammer’s Tom Cox. “AI and ML are major innovations that will impact every sector. While they are all data heavy, the key aspect is the ability to retrieve information instantly.”
Whatever happens, you can rely on Exertis Hammer to be informative, unbiased and at the forefront of market changes.
Link to main feature on EH website
Artificial intelligence is changing the surveillance sector
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are the buzz phrases of the moment. It’s not surprising, the reach and impact these are having - and will continue to have - on the way we work and live is immense. ML and AI are permeating into every, or almost every, facet of society, often without us even realising.
AI is where machines are capable of intelligent behaviour, but this needs to be pre-programmed. ML, on the other hand, is where the machines learn from previous actions and so eventually are able to act and make intelligent decisions without human input. When you add in robotics, any action that is currently undertaken by humans can be done by machines. Any, including surgery.
One sector in particular that could see AI and ML as revolutionary is surveillance. The opportunities AI and ML offer to improve the effectiveness of surveillance are vast; being able to track and analyse, as well as monitor, using, for example, facial recognition will greatly improve speed and efficacy. But you also need the high-spec data storage systems in place for these AI processes to work from; data is the cornerstone of AI.
Surveillance systems have moved beyond low-resolution video to massive networks capturing 4K video using analytics software, said Michael Palma, IDC Research Director for Semiconductor and Enabling Technologies. “This has resulted in a surge in the volume and velocity of surveillance data and is creating demand for storage solutions that support the performance requirements of 4K video, 24/7 operation, and movement of video for smart insights.”
“If your compute systems are optimised to process data as fast as possible, then getting the data into those systems is going to become the bottleneck unless you build just the right combination of compute, memory, and storage,” stated The Register.
One recent product from WD, its Purple SSD, is specifically aimed at this AI-enhanced surveillance which is “purpose-built for the complex and dynamic data demands of modern surveillance cameras and edge systems,” said WD. Meanwhile, Seagate’s SkyHawk AI is billed as the world’s first, purpose-built drive for AI-enabled surveillance solutions.
These follow on from Intel’s security camera hardware for “crowd density monitoring, stereoscopic vision, facial recognition, people counting,” and “behaviour analysis.”
It’s a fast-moving sector, and one in which Hammer, as a leading distributor of such surveillance systems, is well-placed to offer advice and insight helping resellers to meet their own customers’ specific needs.
The ups and downs of drive production
Fast-growing demand from the big data-hungry businesses such as Google, Amazon and Facebook could be having a knock-on effect on HDD prices.
It comes down to basic supply and demand; if the demand grows faster than the supply (which it is), prices are set to rise.
But what’s behind the lag from disk producers in meeting the unrelenting thirst for data storage media?
It all boils down to one vital component. While most of the parts needed to produce disks are in good supply, ceramic capacitors (in which ceramic material acts as the dielectric) – are not. Analysts say the situation shows no signs of improving any time soon.
HDDs that are being made are quickly snapped up. With the big players mopping up supply, the resulting shortfall is affecting smaller businesses in particular. But across the board, it may well result in prices starting to rise. ‘May’ and ‘starting’ are key words here; “The good news is that prices currently are holding steady,” said Adam Blackwell, Hammer’s Business Unit Manager for HDD & SSD.
On the other hand, even though production (supply) is starting to grow again, SSD prices are also remaining level. Some analysts expect that to change this year.
SSDs saw a big price hike last year due to a shortage of NAND. As NAND production continues to increase, prices are expected to fall in what economists call a ‘market correction’.
But this price adjustment will most likely not be uniform across the sector, explains Adam Blackwell, who recommends talking to your Hammer account manager to find out the latest vendor-by-vendor news.
Enterprise drive supply
The growth of machine learning and the Internet of Things are generating vast amounts of data within the enterprise. We’ve had big data for some time; now we have even bigger data with datacentres and cloud storage providers requiring disks with ever greater volumes to meet this demand.
As a result, higher capacity drives are being created using multiple platters. Good news in some respect, but this sector shift towards high volume disks is having a knock-on effect across the whole of the drive market.
As these stacks require a longer testing time, and use more components than smaller capacity enterprise drives, there are fewer parts and less time available for the production of smaller capacity drives.
As Adam Blackwell, Hammer’s Business Unit Manager for HDD & SSD explains: “We are seeing increasing demand across the board but specifically for high density - 10TB and 12TB - drives.”
“The result is that there is a slow-down in the overall supply so the message is clear - customers need to plan ahead,” added Adam. “Lead times now are running at six to eight weeks so it’s important to place orders early to secure the drives you need when you need them. Talk to your Hammer account manager for the latest update.”
Toshiba’s sale of its NAND memory chip business to the Bain Capital consortium, which includes Dell, Kingston Technology and Seagate, is a welcome relief. The uncertainty over the summer-long sale didn’t help alleviate concerns over NAND supply in the market.
Rapidly growing demand, driven primarily by smartphone providers, along with constraints on supply, partly down to manufactures switching from 2D to 3D NAND, means demand outstrips supply, pushing up prices and creating a time delay in delivery.
Hammer customers are better placed than many due to the wide range of vendors from whom we source. But it still means customers need to place orders for SSDs well in advance to ensure their needs are met.
Many industry watchers expect the pressures to continue into 2018, but the news that the future of the Toshiba NAND unit has finally been resolved all helps bring this constraint to a conclusion.
However, as the Financial Times reported: “The acquisition of Toshiba Memory - the world’s second-largest producer of NAND flash memory chips - could yet be delayed by both antitrust scrutiny and legal action by Toshiba’s joint venture partner in the chip-making business, Western Digital.” (http://on.ft.com/2hhQsTh)
“We expect the purchase to take some time,” agreed Nick Powling, General Manager Components at Hammer, “so it will be a while before we will see any meaningful benefit to our customers.”