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Solid-state drives bulk up for capacity

SANTA CLARA, California — Solid-state drives have been much faster than hard disk drives from the start, and now they’re dwarfing HDDs in capacity too.

At Flash Memory Summit this week, Seagate demonstrated a 60 TB 3.-5 inch SAS drive and Samsung said it would have a 32 TB 2.5-inch SAS drive out in 2017 and a 100-plus TB SSDs by 2020.

The largest capacity enterprise drive out now is Samsung’s 16 TB drive, which recently began showing up in all-flash arrays from NetApp and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise 3PAR arrays.

Samsung’s large drives are based its 512-Gb V-NAND chip. The vendor stacks 512 V-NAND chips in 16 layers to create a TB package, and 32 of those TB packages are combined into the 32 TB SSDs. Samsung points out its 32 TB will enable greater density than Seagate’s 60 TB SSD because 24 2.5-inch drives can fit into the same space as 12 3.5-inch SSDs.

Seagate senior director of product management Kent Smith said he expects the 60 TB drive to be available within a year. He said the drive will enable active-active archives. “Take a social media site with a lot of photos that people need to access quickly,” he said. “People hate waiting. This is for when you need lots of capacity but you need it to respond quickly.”

SSDs are already making 15,000 RPM HDDs scarce and relegating 10,000 RPM drives to servers. With the larger drives, SSDs can also move into traditional capacity workloads.

“Flash for bulk data becomes attractive in places where data center space is limited,” said DeepStorage consultant Howard Marks.

HDD giant Seagate is trying to show it is serious about SSDs. Its main spinning disk rival Western Digital has invested heavily in flash, including its $17 billion acquisition of SanDisk completed earlier this year. Seagate has been more active on server-side flash — it also launched new Nytro NVMe cards at FMS – but has been slow to embrace enterprise SSDs.

“It’s a surprise to me that Seagate hasn’t taken its dominance in hard drives and moved that to SSDs,” Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy said during flash market update at FMS.

Samsung also had more products to talk about than big SSDs. The vendor said it expects to release a ultra-low latency Z-SSD and launch a 1 TB ball grid array (BGA) in-2017. Ultra thin BGAs are for notebooks and tablets, but the Z-SSD will be used for enterprise systems running applications such as real-time analysis. Samsung senior SSD product manager Ryan Smith said the first Z-SSD product will be 1TB with larger capacities planned.

One area Samsung is in no rush to be first in is quad-level cell (QLC) SSDs that store 4 bits per NAND cell. While other vendors said they would have QLC in 20017 or 2008, Samsung’s Smith said he sees no reason to hurry past triple-level cell (TLC) flash.

“We feel strongly that TLC is the right strategy,” he said. “What do you gain from QLC? We decided what we’re currently offering is the best choice.”