Storage Trends 2024

It has been less than a year since my last post about storage trends [1] and enough has changed to make it worth writing again. My previous analysis was that for <2TB only SSD made sense, for 4TB SSD made sense for business use while hard drives were still a good option for home use, and for 8TB+ hard drives were clearly the best choice for most uses. I will start by looking at MSY prices, they aren't the cheapest (you can get cheaper online) but they are competitive and they make it easy to compare the different options. I'll also compare the cheapest options in each size, there are more expensive options but usually if you want to pay more then the performance benefits of SSD (both SATA and NVMe) are even more appealing. All prices are in Australian dollars and of parts that are readily available in Australia, but the relative prices of the parts are probably similar in most countries. The main issue here is when to use SSD and when to use hard disks, and then if SSD is chosen which variety to use.

Small Storage

For my last post the cheapest storage devices from MSY were $19 for a 128G SSD, now it’s $24 for a 128G SSD or NVMe device. I don’t think the Australian dollar has dropped much against foreign currencies, so I guess this is partly companies wanting more profits and partly due to the demand for more storage. Items that can’t sell in quantity need higher profit margins if they are to have them in stock. 500G SSDs are around $33 and 500G NVMe devices for $36 so for most use cases it wouldn’t make sense to buy anything smaller than 500G.

The cheapest hard drive is $45 for a 1TB disk. A 1TB SATA SSD costs $61 and a 1TB NVMe costs $79. So 1TB disks aren’t a good option for any use case.

A 2TB hard drive is $89. A 2TB SATA SSD is $118 and a 2TB NVMe is $145. I don’t think the small savings you can get from using hard drives makes them worth using for 2TB.

For most people if you have a system that’s important to you then $145 on storage isn’t a lot to spend. It seems hardly worth buying less than 2TB of storage, even for a laptop. Even if you don’t use all the space larger storage devices tend to support more writes before wearing out so you still gain from it. A 2TB NVMe device you buy for a laptop now could be used in every replacement laptop for the next 10 years. I only have 512G of storage in my laptop because I have a collection of SSD/NVMe devices that have been replaced in larger systems, so the 512G is essentially free for my laptop as I bought a larger device for a server.

For small business use it doesn’t make sense to buy anything smaller than 2TB for any system other than a router. If you buy smaller devices then you will sometimes have to pay people to install bigger ones and when the price is $145 it’s best to just pay that up front and be done with it.

Medium Storage

A 4TB hard drive is $135. A 4TB SATA SSD is $319 and a 4TB NVMe is $299. The prices haven’t changed a lot since last year, but a small increase in hard drive prices and a small decrease in SSD prices makes SSD more appealing for this market segment.

A common size range for home servers and small business servers is 4TB or 8TB of storage. To do that on SSD means about $600 for 4TB of RAID-1 or $900 for 8TB of RAID-5/RAID-Z. That’s quite affordable for that use.

For 8TB of less important storage a 8TB hard drive costs $239 and a 8TB SATA SSD costs $899 so a hard drive clearly wins for the specific case of non-RAID single device storage. Note that the U.2 devices are more competitive for 8TB than SATA but I included them in the next section because they are more difficult to install.

Serious Storage

With 8TB being an uncommon and expensive option for consumer SSDs the cheapest price is for multiple 4TB devices. To have multiple NVMe devices in one PCIe slot you need PCIe bifurcation (treating the PCIe slot as multiple slots). Most of the machines I use don’t support bifurcation and most affordable systems with ECC RAM don’t have it. For cheap NVMe type storage there are U.2 devices (the “enterprise” form of NVMe). Until recently they were too expensive to use for desktop systems but now there are PCIe cards for internal U.2 devices, $14 for a card that takes a single U.2 is a common price on AliExpress and prices below $600 for a 7.68TB U.2 device are common – that’s cheaper on a per-TB basis than SATA SSD and NVMe! There are PCIe cards that take up to 4*U.2 devices (which probably require bifurcation) which means you could have 8+ U.2 devices in one not particularly high end PC for 56TB of RAID-Z NVMe storage. Admittedly $4200 for 56TB is moderately expensive, but it’s in the price range for a small business server or a high end home server. A more common configuration might be 2*7.68TB U.2 on a single PCIe card (or 2 cards if you don’t have bifurcation) for 7.68TB of RAID-1 storage.

For SATA SSD AliExpress has a 6*2.5″ hot-swap device that fits in a 5.25″ bay for $63, so if you have 2*5.25″ bays you could have 12*4TB SSDs for 44TB of RAID-Z storage. That wouldn’t be much cheaper than 8*7.68TB U.2 devices and would be slower and have less space. But it would be a good option if PCIe bifurcation isn’t possible.

16TB SATA hard drives cost $559 which is almost exactly half the price per TB of U.2 storage. That doesn’t seem like a good deal. If you want 16TB of RAID storage then 3*7.68TB U.2 devices only costs about 50% more than 2*16TB SATA disks. In most cases paying 50% more to get NVMe instead of hard disks is a good option. As sizes go above 16TB prices go up in a more than linear manner, I guess they don’t sell much volume of larger drives.

15.36TB U.2 devices are on sale for about $1300, slightly more than twice the price of a 16TB disk. It’s within the price range of small businesses and serious home users. Also it should be noted that the U.2 devices are designed for “enterprise” levels of reliability and the hard disk prices I’m comparing to are the cheapest available. If “NAS” hard disks were compared then the price benefit of hard disks would be smaller.

Probably the biggest problem with U.2 for most people is that it’s an uncommon technology that few people have much experience with or spare parts for testing. Also you can’t buy U.2 gear at your local computer store which might mean that you want to have spare parts on hand which is an extra expense.

For enterprise use I’ve recently been involved in discussions with a vendor that sells multiple petabyte arrays of NVMe. Apparently NVMe is cheap enough that there’s no need to use anything else if you want a well performing file server.

Do Hard Disks Make Sense?

There are specific cases like comparing a 8TB hard disk to a 8TB SATA SSD or a 16TB hard disk to a 15.36TB U.2 device where hard disks have an apparent advantage. But when comparing RAID storage and counting the performance benefits of SSD the savings of using hard disks don’t seem to be that great.

Is now the time that hard disks are going to die in the market? If they can’t get volume sales then prices will go up due to lack of economy of scale in manufacture and increased stock time for retailers. 8TB hard drives are now more expensive than they were 9 months ago when I wrote my previous post, has a hard drive price death spiral already started?

SSDs are cheaper than hard disks at the smallest sizes, faster (apart from some corner cases with contiguous IO), take less space in a computer, and make less noise. At worst they are a bit over twice the cost per TB. But the most common requirements for storage are small enough and cheap enough that being twice as expensive as hard drives isn’t a problem for most people.

I predict that hard disks will become less popular in future and offer less of a price advantage. The vendors are talking about 50TB hard disks being available in future but right now you can fit more than 50TB of NVMe or U.2 devices in a volume less than that of a 3.5″ hard disk so for storage density SSD can clearly win. Maybe in future hard disks will be used in arrays of 100TB devices for large scale enterprise storage. But for home users and small businesses the current sizes of SSD cover most uses.

At the moment it seems that the one case where hard disks can really compare well is for backup devices. For backups you want large storage, good contiguous write speeds, and low prices so you can buy plenty of them.

Further Issues

The prices I’ve compared for SATA SSD and NVMe devices are all based on the cheapest devices available. I think it’s a bit of a market for lemons [2] as devices often don’t perform as well as expected and the incidence of fake products purporting to be from reputable companies is high on the cheaper sites. So you might as well buy the cheaper devices. An advantage of the U.2 devices is that you know that they will be reliable and perform well.

One thing that concerns me about SSDs is the lack of knowledge of their failure cases. Filesystems like ZFS were specifically designed to cope with common failure cases of hard disks and I don’t think we have that much knowledge about how SSDs fail. But with 3 copies of metadata BTFS or ZFS should survive unexpected SSD failure modes.

I still have some hard drives in my home server, they keep working well enough and the prices on SSDs keep dropping. But if I was buying new storage for such a server now I’d get U.2.

I wonder if tape will make a comeback for backup.

Does anyone know of other good storage options that I missed?

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