Is The Era of Cheap Disk Storage Over?

By Paul Rubens

Another way of using existing capacity more effectively might be to switch from data protection using RAID 1 - which simply mirrors or duplicates data to make additional copies, to a more storage efficient RAID level which provides similar protection. "Rising costs could push people to accept a 5% performance hit of using a different RAID level," he says. "The fact is that some people simply replicate their data as it is less hassles, and there is no performance hit."

Of course another alternative to disk based storage is not using any storage at all, and Peters reckons that most companies could probably delete more than 20% of the data they currently hold without any noticeable effect to the business and without breaching any regulatory requirements.

Gartner's Gene Ruth broadly agrees with this assessment. "It is curious but we are constantly telling clients about technologies to use storage more effectively like dedupe, thin provisioning and so on. But there is a big opportunity to use content management. People often fail to understand what they could do if they managed their data well. It gives you the confidence to press the delete key. At the moment there is not enough investment in technology that helps you to call out data and get rid of it."

He suggests that moving to cloud storage can be helpful in this regards, but not for the reason that you may imagine. Cloud storage may well be cheaper than storage on an enterprise storage array, but Ruth points out that by paying for what you use – rather than filling up a storage array that has been paid for in the past – can make a big difference.

"When companies get a monthly bill it can be a big motivator to cut down the storage they use," he explains.

When it comes to the supply side, there’s no doubt that new fabrication facilities will come online to ensure that higher volumes of hard drives can be made – eventually. But unless a new technology – the equivalent of fracking in the oil industry – makes disk storage plentiful and cheap to produce then simply making more hard drives won't drive the price down fast enough.

It's impossible to predict what such a future storage technology might be, although one promising possibility includes heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) drives. HAMR uses a small laser to heat the part of the disk that is about to be written to. The effect is to allow smaller bits to be written to the disk, increasing the potential areal density to about 5,000 Gb per square inch. That means that 3.5" disk drives with a capacity of 60TB may be possible, although in the near term they won't offer this type of capacity.

The good news then is that until new storage technology comes to the rescue, as it inevitably does, there are plenty of opportunities for enterprises to store less data and store the data they do need more efficiently.

But the bad news is that a period of cheap disk storage is likely to be coming to an end. "I don't think we will run out of storage," concludes Seagate's Mark Whitby, "but I think we are entering a period where storage prices will rise subtly. "

This article was originally published on March 23, 2015

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