Big ideas take time – a lot of it – to become mainstream products. Don’t jump too soon on the Flash Drive bandwagon.
Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg were awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering giant magnetoresistance (GMR) in 1988. GMR turned out to be a key to continuing the relentless march of progress for disk drives, leading to today’s 1 TB drives priced in the $300 range.
In the late 90’s disk drive technology was running out of steam. GMR dramatically improved the ability of disk heads to read magnetic signals, which were getting weaker as disk bits became smaller. Lead by IBM and then Seagate, disk drive makers integrated GMR technology in their drives to continue the industry’s ~40% annual capacity growth rate.
GMR became a viable volume product 10 years after Albert and Peter had their Eureka moments.
Flash forward to 2007
The industry is now rolling out drives based on Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) technology, an even bigger achievement than GMR was in the 90’s. All of Seagate’s products are now built with PMR, but it took a decade of research and development, as well as major changes to the drive manufacturing ecosystem, to arrive at high volume production of high quality perpendicular products.
“But wait!” you say, “GMR won the Nobel Prize! How could PMR be a bigger deal than that?” GMR removed a barrier to reading data on a disk, while PMR has overcome limits to how data is stored, written and read. It’s rejiggering the whole enchilada.
By the way, GMR technology is still at the core of every Perpendicular drive we make. No doubt it was an incredible breakthrough that continues to contribute to every device that relies on a disk drive.
A lesson for flash memory
Today, flash memory and Solid State Drives are all the rage. Samsung has announced a 64 GB solide state device. Their ads show flash drives powering a driven business person’s laptop as he runs to his next meeting. One problem: his flash drive added $1000 or more to the price of that laptop. Not exactly marketable mainstream technology.
There’s no doubt that flash has a place in the market. It’s not “if”, but “when” and “how”. The lessons learned from GMR and PMR are that bold storage innovations take years to develop into marketable products. Flash will steadily become more valuable, more reliable and more affordable.
The good news is that you can leverage the first practical, profitable iteration of flash technology with hybrid drives, like Seagate’s Momentus 5400 FDE drive. It gives you the benefits of flash (performance, less power) without sacrificing the benefits of drives (cost per gigabyte, reliability, capacity).
I believe flash is tomorrow’s disk storage, and disk is tomorrow’s tape storage. In the meantime, enjoy the ride with today’s amazing PMR disk drives, all the better with flash inside!