Storage Soup

Aug 19 2013   3:33PM GMT

“Gang of Four” Disk Manufacturers Says Don’t Forget About Spinning Disk

Rich Castagna Rich Castagna Profile: Rich Castagna

SPA officially launched at the eighth Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, Calif. No, SPA isn’t an upscale new Silicon Valley health resort where the nouveau Web riche renew their inner entrepreneurs with mud baths and herbal teas in between Pilates sessions.

SPA stands for Storage Products Association, a seemingly general name that could be a catchall for hundreds of storage and storage-related vendors. But this SPA is a much more exclusive club with just four members—but that gang of four represents nearly 100% of the market their new organization represents.

Seagate, WD, Toshiba and HGST are the founding and likely to be only members of this club which has come together to promote hard disk technology. The purpose of the SPA, according to the association’s published materials, is to “promote the use and understanding of rotating magnetic media hard drive (RHD) technologies…” including “solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD) and hard disk drive (HDD) technologies.”

The hybrid drives seem to be the hook for this announcement to come during a conference that specifically does not focus on hard drive technologies. David Burke, product marketing director for solid state hybrid technology at Seagate, explained that the SPA is not a standards-setting group; it will focus on education, awareness and advocacy.

“Both of the technologies will play large roles for years to come,” said Burke, referring to the marriage of flash and hard drives that the new association is promoting. Burke said that there isn’t a clear understanding of the benefits of fitting out a hard drive with a relatively small amount of flash storage that would be used as a cache to greatly improve performance. He said the SPA hopes to deliver a “more balanced message in the industry.”

The formation of the organization seems to be an early or preemptive move to ensure that hard disk technology doesn’t get overlooked or misunderstood as solid-state storage implementations threaten to monopolize the storage media conversation. The SPA’s initial focus on hybrid technology is at once an admission to the incursion of solid state and declaration of HDD relevancy. Products based on hybrid technology have been around for several years, but they haven’t had a profound impact on either the HDD or flash markets, according to Burke. While hybrids have been targeted at the mobile market, SPA members hope that newly released enterprise products will make their way into servers, appliances and arrays and help tip the balance.

Toshiba’s Joel Hagberg, vice president of marketing for their storage products business unit, said hybrid’s relatively slow adoption can be attributed to a couple of factors. First, there was only a single source for the tech for awhile, so laptop/mobile makers were reluctant to incorporate the technology. But even after there were multiple sources, Intel’s stringent requirements for UltraBook component compliance required at least 20 GB of solid state storage, while most hybrids were built with 4 GB of flash. It seems that both sides have come around a bit, with Intel relaxing their standard and the disk makers upping the amount of flash in the drives to 8 GB and 16 GB, with 32 GB models likely to appear soon.

Although it may seem odd that a group of disk manufacturers feel the need to bury differences and band together when they still enjoy a huge advantage of over solid-state by any measure—capacity, units and revenue. And all the members are also very actively involved with solid-state technologies. It may be that they saw how tape storage, without special attention was left to kind of drift off into oblivion. And now as tape vendors try to prove their value, especially with groundbreaking capabilities like LTFS, they have to first climb their way back into user consciousness and rebuild their tattered ties before they can renew interest in tape techs.

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