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Future Of HDD Market Lies In Hybrid Drives

Hybrid drives that combine legacy hard disk drives with NAND flash technology represent an opportunity for further growth, according to IDC.

The hard disk drive market has revenue expansion opportunities over the next five years despite the growing popularity of solid-state drives and waning PC sales.

Revenue for the HDD industry will increase from $33.4 billion in 2010 to $48.2 billion in 2015, according to International Data Corporation.

Demand for HDDs will continue in traditional IT segments such as PCs. Growth will be driven by the expansion of public and private cloud storage infrastructure and demand for from consumers and small businesses for private or personal cloud storage, according to the market intelligence firm. Hybrid drives that combine legacy HDD storage with NAND flash technology, represent an opportunity for further growth.

"I still think HDDs will be relevant over the next five years, but it's not going to provide double digit growth and because of that, vendors need to look at other opportunities," said John Rydning, research director at IDC, in an interview. "One of them is to combine the characteristics of NAND flash technology with rotating disk technology."

The SSD market is growing with the increase in flash-based storage devices like smartphones and tablets. Gartner anticipates the SSD market to grow from $994 million in 2010 to $4.2 billion in 2015, with about 1.3 million SSD units shipped in 2010, to an expected 9.4 million units shipped in 2015. This growth is fueled by the increasing use of SSDs, which consume less power than hard-disk drives and allow quicker access to information.

"With a hybrid storage drive, the device uses an algorithm to identify the most frequently and commonly accessed files and intelligently pins that content to the NAND flash memory in the drive," Rydning said. "When the host device requests that same content, the hybrid storage drive avoids the latency inherent with HDDs and delivers the requested content quickly from the NAND flash."

However, having the right algorithm that adjusts to program and data usage is the primary obstacle. In fact, that was what killed earlier version of hybrid drives.

In 2007, the Hybrid Storage Alliance was formed by Fujitsu, Hitachi, Samsung Electronics, Seagate Technology, and Toshiba, in order to promote the technology. The first hybrid drives were linked to Windows Vista's ReadyDrive, which handled the processing and categorization of the NAND flash. However, when Vista was replaced by Window's 7, the ReadyDrive support was nixed and many hybrid drives were discontinued

Last year, Seagate introduced its hybrid Momentus XT , a 2.5-inch drive that combines a 4 GB SSD with a HDD and is available in capacities of 250 GB, 320 GB, and 500 GB. The drive has been very successful and Seagate anticipates that in five years, 80% of drives shipped will be hybrid drives, said Jim Handy, analyst with Objective Analysis, in an interview.

"With the hybrid drive market, what we're expecting to see, once it catches on with users, it will become viral," Handy said. "Then it's a question of when do we reach that point. We expect it should happen next year."

Objective Analysis forecasts the hybrid HDD market will grow to 600 million units by 2016 with $34 billion in revenue.

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