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Storage Trends 2021

The Viability of Small Disks

Less than a year ago I wrote a blog post about storage trends [1]. My main point in that post was that disks smaller than 2TB weren’t viable then and 2TB disks wouldn’t be economically viable in the near future.

Now MSY has 2TB disks for $72 and 2TB SSD for $245, saving $173 if you get a hard drive (compared to saving $240 10 months ago). Given the difference in performance and noise 2TB hard drives won’t be worth using for most applications nowadays.

NVMe vs SSD

Last year NVMe prices were very comparable for SSD prices, I was hoping that trend would continue and SSDs would go away. Now for sizes 1TB and smaller NVMe and SSD prices are very similar, but for 2TB the NVMe prices are twice that of SSD – presumably partly due to poor demand for 2TB NVMe. There are also no NVMe devices larger than 2TB on sale at MSY (a store which caters to home stuff not special server equipment) but SSDs go up to 8TB.

It seems that NVMe is only really suitable for workstation storage and for cache etc on a server. So SATA SSDs will be around for a while.

Small Servers

There are a range of low end servers which support a limited number of disks. Dell has 2 disk servers and 4 disk servers. If one of those had 8TB SSDs you could have 8TB of RAID-1 or 24TB of RAID-Z storage in a low end server. That covers the vast majority of servers (small business or workgroup servers tend to have less than 8TB of storage).

Larger Servers

Anandtech has an article on Seagates roadmap to 120TB disks [2]. They currently sell 20TB disks using HAMR technology

Currently the biggest disks that MSY sells are 10TB for $395, which was also the biggest disk they were selling last year. Last year MSY only sold SSDs up to 2TB in size (larger ones were available from other companies at much higher prices), now they sell 8TB SSDs for $949 (4* capacity increase in less than a year). Seagate is planning 30TB disks for 2023, if SSDs continue to increase in capacity by 4* per year we could have 128TB SSDs in 2023. If you needed a server with 100TB of storage then having 2 or 3 SSDs in a RAID array would be much easier to manage and faster than 4*30TB disks in an array.

When you have a server with many disks you can expect to have more disk failures due to vibration. One time I built a server with 18 disks and took disks from 2 smaller servers that had 4 and 5 disks. The 9 disks which had been working reliably for years started having problems within weeks of running in the bigger server. This is one of the many reasons for paying extra for SSD storage.

Seagate is apparently planning 50TB disks for 2026 and 100TB disks for 2030. If that’s the best they can do then SSD vendors should be able to sell larger products sooner at prices that are competitive. Matching hard drive prices is not required, getting to less than 4* the price should be enough for most customers.

The Anandtech article is worth reading, it mentions some interesting features that Seagate are developing such as having 2 actuators (which they call Mach.2) so the drive can access 2 different tracks at the same time. That can double the performance of a disk, but that doesn’t change things much when SSDs are more than 100* faster. Presumably the Mach.2 disks will be SAS and incredibly expensive while providing significantly less performance than affordable SATA SSDs.

Computer Cases

In my last post I speculated on the appearance of smaller cases designed to not have DVD drives or 3.5″ hard drives. Such cases still haven’t appeared apart from special purpose machines like the NUC that were available last year.

It would be nice if we could get a new industry standard for smaller power supplies. Currently power supplies are expected to be almost 5 inches wide (due to the expectation of a 5.25″ DVD drive mounted horizontally). We need some industry standards for smaller PCs that aren’t like the NUC, the NUC is very nice, but most people who build their own PC need more space than that. I still think that planning on USB DVD drives is the right way to go. I’ve got 4PCs in my home that are regularly used and CDs and DVDs are used so rarely that sharing a single DVD drive among all 4 wouldn’t be a problem.

Conclusion

I’m tempted to get a couple of 4TB SSDs for my home server which cost $487 each, it currently has 2*500G SSDs and 3*4TB disks. I would have to remove some unused files but that’s probably not too hard to do as I have lots of old backups etc on there. Another possibility is to use 2*4TB SSDs for most stuff and 2*4TB disks for backups.

I’m recommending that all my clients only use SSDs for their storage. I only have one client with enough storage that disks are the only option (100TB of storage) but they moved all the functions of that server to AWS and use S3 for the storage. Now I don’t have any clients doing anything with storage that can’t be done in a better way on SSD for a price difference that’s easy for them to afford.

Affordable SSD also makes RAID-1 in workstations more viable. 2 disks in a PC is noisy if you have an office full of them and produces enough waste heat to be a reliability issue (most people don’t cool their offices adequately on weekends). 2 SSDs in a PC is no problem at all. As 500G SSDs are available for $73 it’s not a significant cost to install 2 of them in every PC in the office (more cost for my time than hardware). I generally won’t recommend that hard drives be replaced with SSDs in systems that are working well. But if a machine runs out of space then replacing it with SSDs in a RAID-1 is a good choice.

Moore’s law might cover SSDs, but it definitely doesn’t cover hard drives. Hard drives have fallen way behind developments of most other parts of computers over the last 30 years, hopefully they will go away soon.

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