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Western Digital says the smart money is still on hard drives

by Scott Bicheno on 13 October 2010, 16:52


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Hard sell

When solid state drives (SSDs) started to get cheaper per GB, many of us wondered what the hell incumbent hard disk drive (HDD) leaders such as Seagate and Western Digital (WD) were doing allowing the likes of Intel, Kingston and Corsair to take their market away from them.

But the wholesale move from HDD to SSD hasn't happened for the simple reason that the cost per GB of HDDs remains a lot lower and there's only so much mainstream consumers are prepared to pay for the performance and power consumption benefits of the SSD. A good case can be made for paying that extra, but it's still extra.

Of course the HDD incumbents have hedged their bets by buying into SSDs, but those remain primarily an enterprise play. All reasonably-priced PCs are still going to run on HDDs, but WD at least still sees a lot of growth potential in the external HDD market. We spoke to WD head of consumer branded products, Jim Welsh, to find out why.

"Attach rates [of external HDDs] are still very low, so there's a huge opportunity," said Welsh. "People should at least be backing-up their stuff." It seems that many end-users still aren't sold on the benefits of shelling out on an external HDD, despite them being cheaper and more capacious than ever.

For this reason Welsh was over in the UK on a channel push. Retail remains an important channel for WD because it's dependent on knowledgeable salespeople to explain the necessity of buying an external HDD to back up and store the exponentially increasing amount of data we're all accumulating. It's also a good margin-maker for retailers who make little on the sales of systems.

"Our strategy is to focus on the end-user and where they buy their products," said Welsh. "We want them to understand how they can unleash the power of storage." WD has direct relationships with its biggest retail partners in the UK - Dixons and Amazon - but also works with a number of disties.

And WD definitely has its eye on emerging sectors. We asked how worried Welsh is about the threat to WD TV - a family of media players designed to work with WD drives - from the innovations coming from Apple and Google. "Consumers have really grasped the concept of time-shift viewing, but having a big name is by no means an assurance you will do well," he said. "WD TV has outsold Apple TV in the US."

Another emerging category that WD is excited about is tablets. Not because it expects many of them to necessarily contain WD drives, but precisely because their internal storage is generally inadequate, and it anticipates demand from tablet owners to dump their media externally on a regular basis.

To conclude we asked Welsh if he's not at all concerned about the threat of SSDs. "We have that technology in-house, but we still haven't found the price-point for mass consumer adoption," he said. "They will continue to coexist in much the same way they do today."



HEXUS Forums :: 18 Comments

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I don' think Western Digital will be too worried about SSD as that is balanced by the amout of extra storage that the average user now needs compared to say 4 or 5 years ago. With the explosion of High Def and faster broadband a 1TB drive is now smallfry.

And WD will only really have to start worrying about Apple and Google TV once they actually get the product right - and that could take a good few go's by the looks of things.:rolleyes: The first company that can produce an all in one media players/streamer that can record Dual DVB-T2 and has a nice interface without faffing about - they will instantly win a watch …
Is anyone aware of any other drawback to SSDs than just the price?
hermano pequeño;1991315
Is anyone aware of any other drawback to SSDs than just the price?

IMO Price/Capacity is the main drawback, the only other negatives are relatively minor:

1. They only have a limited number of write cycles, so they wear out eventually, although it does take awhile.

2. Currently there's still a lack of TRIM in RAID
I don't think Western Digital will be too worried about SSD as that is balanced by the amout of extra storage that the average user now needs compared to say 4 or 5 years ago. With the explosion of High Def and faster broadband a 1TB drive is now smallfry.
Agree with what you're saying - I figure that the WD ‘raptors are going to be cut when there’s little price advantage v's SSD's. On the other hand the relative cheapness of the 1.5, 2.0 and 2.0+ TB drives surely makes them ideal for offline backup use, and possibly less so for online archives - e.g. that multi-gigabyte iTunes library. In which case, WD's focus on DAS and NAS seems to be a smart move.

On the other hand, the elderliness of my Windows PC means that a pair of 1TB units - one for main, the other storing backups - works fine. Lord only knows what storage I'll need when I finally get enough dosh together to be able to upgrade to Win7 running on a multicore box.
I agree with WDs analysis, and have often said so.

In my opinion, SSDs are far more about performance enhancing than they are, at least so far, about mass storage. And for a LOT of people, the premium for that performance enhancement is simply too high. Clearly, a lot of the users on a site like this will pay out for it, either because they're power users where the performance difference is important, or because they simply want to adopt the latest tech. Or perhaps even for grabbing rights. Etc.

But I doubt that the average Joe or Josephine Public would know an SSD if it bit them on the butt, and at the current cost/GB, would care even less.

The biggest problem with SSDs is that in this multimedia-intensive age, big SSDs cost about as much as a decent PC, and the ‘reasonably’ priced SSDs are too small to be anything much more than a boot disk. To clarify that, as soon as you start talking about storing loads of music files, let alone video, or large collections of hi-res photos, etc, 30GB is next to useless and even 60GB isn't anywhere near enough. So, other than portable devices like netbooks, for many types of use, an SSD is an addition to one or more HDs, not a substitute. Not yet, anyway. Price is moving in the right direction, but it remains to be seen when, and indeed, if they can ever directly compete with HDs on cost/GB.