Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/04/seagate_home_storage_plans/

Seagate heading for the wild west

A romp with cowboy Bill

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 4th November 2008 19:23 GMT

In a storage press event today, Seagate said it was going to produce a network-attached storage (NAS) product for the home and and a hard drive able to plug into a TV and play media content. Its coming enterprise solid state drive will combine single and multi-level cell technology and a second attempt at hybrid drives will be made next year.

The home

Seagate CEO Bill Watkins said Seagate tries generally not to compete with its channel but the home market is like the wild west and, we can infer, Seagate is free to stake its claim there. Seagate has its home storage lines and EMC bought Iomega, so it is competing with Seagate. He said the home market is the hot, hot market right now, and: "We're going to enterprise the home."

You get the feeling that if Seagate thinks it can sell drives, raw or packaged in some device, better than its channel in still-developing markets then it will go right ahead and do so.

Pat King, his SVP for global marketing, carefully said Seagate would introduce a home NAS system, a box to store the media-rich content being created in, and downloaded to, the home. It seems this will be a home device through branding and the channel, so not to become a cheap business NAS box.

Watkins added that he thought the La Cies and Buffaloes and similar - implying Iomega methinks - selling HDDS into the home had a problem, as they bought drives from Seagate and others and then competed with their own drive suppliers for home storage sales. They had a margin problem: "It's a tough battle. There's no way for them to be competitive on costs."

Separately, Pat King said we'd see a Seagate drive in the middle of next year that could be docked into a TV and stream content for playing. It would have a remote control for users to get the device working. The dock would be an HDMI or composite video plug type connector. He didn't say the NAS box would plug into the TV but such a connection might be reasonable. He didn't say Seagate would introduce a media player like Western Digital's or an Apple TV-type box. But if the home is the wild west, then Seagate could start staking claims anywhere it likes in that territory.

King sees a need for a home storage server that accepts content from various content creation devices - and, presumably, over the net - and then streams it to content playing devices. He didn't say anything about wireless connectivity or about backup or about encryption here but it is pre-product launch time, by many months, and who knows what the roadmap contains and how it will develop.

Seagate doesn't think home users will store much on Google. HDD cost/GB will always be two or three times less than the cost/GB of Internet bandwidth and the company can't see that relationship changing. Networks will be used to send content to hard drives or between hard drives, not to replace hard drives. The cloud is a transmission medium, not a storage medium

Seagate flash drives

Seagate wants to have its own solid state drive (SSD) intellectual property (IP) above the raw componentry. It doesn't want to own a foundry. The flash fabs don't make money and, anyway, NAND flash technology suffers from short write cycle life, poor write performance relative to reads and high prices. Single level cell (SLC) technology is the best performer but is expansive and can't scale. Multi-level cell (MLC) technology has less expensive capacity but suffers particularly from the reliability issue.

Seagate's coming SSD will combine SLC and MLC flash in the same unit. Watkins said: "We want to put performance in the read-mode, tier zero, enterprise space. That makes business sense to us initially."

The drive will be for tier zero applications needing lots of low latency IOPS, the applications that use short-stroked 15K rpm Fibre Channel drives today. Compared to the cost/GB of such drives an enterprise flash drive is much better value. Seagate reckons this market could grow to 5-10 per cent of enterprise storage purchases.

It will continue to prosecute its legal IP infringement case against STEC and says cross-licensing isn't feasible. STEC doesn't have any IP it needs, Seagate already owning Fibre Channel and SAS interface and error detection and correction technology.

It thinks that the big prize in solid state is next-generation technology like magneto-resistive memory (MRAM) or spin transfer torque RAM or similar that will surpass NAND limitations. NAND will give Seagate the base from which to grow into this next-generation technology. There are a number of Silicon Valley start-ups in this area into which Seagate has invested or with which it has joint-ventures. A purchase of SanDisk for this kind of technology looks unlikely.

Hybrid drives, areal density growth, etc.

Seagate will introduce hybrid drives, hard disk drives (HDD) with, say, 15GB of flash, and the ability to boot from flash to solve the long boot time problem. Such drives would also cache writes in the flash and so reduce the number of HDD writes, lowering power consumption. This could happen next year and would, presumably, be particularly good for notebooks.

Watkins said he expects areal density to improve at 50 per cent plus per year. A 1Tbit/sq inch level should be reachable with product appearing in four to five years (2012-2013). In 2013 heat-assisted magnetic recording (HARM) technology will start being used.

Seagate has looked at 20K, and even 25K rpm drives but the cost model has never seemed to be right with the added expense for the added performance being too high except possibly for a very small niche. Anyway, SSDs have taken the pressure off doing anything here for now.

Yes, there is scope for more consolidation in the HDD industry. Of the six main players only Seagate, Western Digital and Hitachi, all vertically integrated, are making money, with Fujitsu, Samsung and Toshiba losing money and being "extremely unhealthy". None of this sick trio are vertically integrated with Watkins saying the vertically-integrated model is the only way to scale to any size. Overall Seagate thought it was well-positioned to take advantage of long-term storage trends, almost being recession proof. The fourth quarter of this year will see a blip with growth lower than last but pretty soon it should be business back to normal.

And the answer to the most pressing question? Bill voted for Obama. ®