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Toshiba says enterprise demand remains for 15,000 rpm HDD

Tape isn’t dead, and neither are 15,000 rpm enterprise hard disk drives. Not yet, at least.

Toshiba recently began shipping a new AL14SX Series of 15,000 rpm HDD products designed for mission-critical servers and storage systems at a time when faster solid-state drives (SSDs) are taking over the high-performance, enterprise-class storage drive market.

Toshiba’s Scott Wright, director of disk drive product marketing, acknowledged the 15,000 rpm HDD product segment is “under attack,” but he said the shift to denser triple-level cell 3D NAND technology is creating opportunities for the drives. As the entry capacities of flash-based SSDs rise and the NAND flash shortage continues, he said, the high-performance 15,000 rpm 12 Gbps SAS HDDs take aim at use cases such as server boot and logging, and storage workloads requiring lots of small writes.

Toshiba began shipping a new 900 GB capacity option for its new 2.5-inch AL14SX HDD — a 50% increase over the 600 GB capacity limit of the prior AL13SX generation — in addition to 300 GB and 600 GB options. The new AL14SX HDD line also boosts the maximum sustained transfer rate by 19% and consumes 28.7% watts per GB less than the older model.

“Everyone who was a good customer for the 13SX is planning to qualify the 14SX,” Wright said. “While the overall volume of demand for these types of products is in decline, mainly because there is pressure from SSD, the interest in having these models continues, especially from the server guys.”

Wright said storage OEMs have largely stopped making traditional SAN storage arrays with the 15,000 rpm HDD, as they focus on all-flash arrays or hybrid storage systems that use slower 10,000 rpm HDDs or 7,200 rpm HDDs. But Wright said he expects the new 2.5-inch 15K AL14SX HDDs to find demand among storage manufacturers as upgrades and spares in the large legacy market.

How much demand is left for 15,000 rpm HDDs?

John Rydning, a research vice president tracking the HDD market at International Data Corp. (IDC), predicted the industry will see “a long tail of demand” — albeit declining — for 15,000 rpm HDDs through 2020. He said HDD manufacturers shipped approximately 8.5 million 15,000 rpm HDDs in 2015 and about 5.8 million in 2016.

Three vendors remain in the HDD market, but only Toshiba and Seagate continue to produce new HDDs in the enterprise performance category that includes 15,000 and 10,000 drives, according to Wright. He said Seagate is already shipping 900 GB HDDs, but Western Digital’s HGST subsidiary has no plans to launch a 900 GB 15K HDD or 2,400GB 10K HDD.

Wright said Toshiba’s new generation of 15,000 rpm HDD products use a single platter for 300 GB HDDs, two platters for 600 GB HDDs and three platters for 900 GB HDDs. With the older generation, the 300 GB 15K HDD was a two-platter model and the 600 GB HDD was a three-platter model, he said.

Wright said Toshiba is currently shipping AL14SX HDD qualification units and expects to be in volume production in the third quarter, in time for the rollout of new servers with next-generation Intel processors.

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