Seagate’s flash SSD intentions

If the customer wants flash, we’ll have it

This is the Seagate position concerning flash solid state drives: “(It) is not if, there is no if, we are in it.” And that comes from the man who should know; Seagate CEO BIll Watkins.

Here is Watkins and his team talking at a 2007 Seagate analysts’ meeting:

“– I think one of the misconceptions people have is that we don’t believe in solid-state storage. I made an announcement a couple of weeks ago that we’re going to do flash drives. Flash drives won’t happen in the near-term. Hybrids will be a little nearer, but they’re still far out there. But, that’s not our value proposition.

“And one of the things people keep thinking about us is disks and heads and components. We’re not a component company. A drive isn’t really a storage system, has a tremendous amount of error correction, interface protocols, controls, [error], things like to handle things, to handle video, handle. You have a lot of things going on.

“Many of you don’t know, but in a enterprise, there’s at least — or almost a million lines of code in the firmware. That’s all proprietary things that we know how to do. We can design flash drives a whole lot better than anybody else. We can design hybrids better, and we can design hard drives better.

“And what we’re — as a Company, we’re going to be neutral. In fact, we’re going to be more than — less than neutral. We’re going to drive the right technology for customers. It doesn’t matter what I say about hybrids or flash or whatever. It doesn’t matter what Samsung or Elliot at Sandisk says or anything. The customer is going to decide.

“What we at Seagate are doing and have been doing and will continue to do is make sure that we can solve that problem with the right technology. And if the customer wants is as flash, we’ll have it. If it wants it as a hybrid, it’ll have it. If it wants it as a pure hard drive, and we think all markets are going to be growth markets for us.

“And in fact, there’s obsolete markets we’re not in today that we think we can go to with solid state and hybrids and things. So again, the question that we’re going to ask is not if, there is no if, we are in it. We will provide storage solutions in any component that you want to use it with.”

Brian Dexheimer, Seagate EVP and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, said: “So to net this all out, I think what we see, and our view on this is, it is possible to conceive if write cycle challenges and cost challenges can be handled in solid state disk progression in terms of technology, there is some reason to believe that by 2011, portions of the commercial PC environment, which we think are relatively low on the capacity value equation and maybe even portions of stand-alone game consoles, maybe even portions of high-performance, mission-critical or read-only boot drive portions of the mission-critical environment, maybe those all could be potential available markets for solid state disk by 2011.”

Hybrid drives, hard drives with flash cache, will match the boot performance of pure SSD (solid state disk) machines, in Seagate’s view. Capacity-centric hard drives will have overwhelming cost advantages over SSD for the next three to four years. Dexheimer thinks flash could take 10-15 percent of the performance-centric market in 2011.

He sums up: “What we do know and the final point of this chart is that there’s a large portion, whether you look at it from a supply perspective or a demand perspective, that will likely never even entertain the prospects of the solid state disk. They may entertain forms of hybrid. They may although they certainly will continue to drive forms of standalone, rotating storage. … The net of this is is we think there’s robust standalone drive growth, robust hybrid growth, some start of solid state disk growth over the next three or four-year period of time, and we intend to provide the right solution to our customers, no matter what that equation looks like.”

A slide bears the message ‘Flash will never have a capacity-based value proposition over HDD.’

So flash SSD will happen and substitution of SSDs for HDDs (hard disk drives) will be in performance-centric markets at first and be happening in 2011. Seagate will contribute lots of flash controller firmware to deal with error correction and write cycles.

Seagate is not going to lead its customers to substitute SSDs for HDDs. But it will be ready, when customers see that as an affordable and beneficial substitution, to go right along with them.

Against this background threats of legal action against Intel and Samsung are probably real but of no real importance in trying to hold back the tide. Bill Watkins may be cute but he is no Canute.

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