Why are storage unit shipments shrinking?

You may not have heard the news, but the storage industry is struggling to grow.

Not quite sure how a couple of analysts came to that conclusion; but hey, if they say it, it must be true … right?

Let’s see, this year folks will buy:

  • A few billion smartphones;
  • 30-50M tablets;
  • A few hundred million notebook/desktop computers; and
  • A million + servers.

Folks will use the devices to:

  • Shoot photos, videos (millions a day);
  • Tweet, text, email (billions a day);
  • Develop/share business plans, presentations, information; and
  • Write, share, copy news, gossip, stuff, music, movies, whatever.

Then there are the people that gather what they sterilely like to call big data:

Even while all of this is going on, the storage industry will continue to shrink with unit volumes down five per cent, according to IHS.

More, Less – New smartphones, tablets, ultralights and wearables are being introduced/sold every day.  To keep them light, rugged and power conservative, most are offered with flash memory –minimum flash memory, but flash memory just the same.  But when folks go to buy more storage, they want a lot of storage that’s cheap; and at less than $100 for 1+TB of capacity, hard drives win hands down.  But still, some forecasts aren’t rosy.

True, there are fewer HD drive producers (WD, Seagate, Toshiba, Hitachi),  but you’d never guess it by looking at all the great HD solution producers (EMC, HP, Dell, Other World Computing, LaCie, NewerTech and others).

And they’re all doing a pretty brisk business because of the storage demands from cloud companies (storage outsourcers), companies, home storage (family cloud), individuals (personal cloud) and the infamous “others.”

Out-the-door shipments were 755 million units, down from 794 million; but still, capacities have grown from 500GB to 1-4TB.

The only growth area IHS projects is chip-based storage (SSD) which grew 82 per cent and should be enough to meet the smartphone, tablet, ultralight notebook, power game/video producer and “gotta be fast” social media site needs.

Face it, it’s real easy to pick on folks you only look to for big bit buckets. After all, they’re supposed to be cheap because they just aren’t as sexy as your new phablet or wearable … at any price!

You could put the stuff in the cloud; but the way everyone – and I mean everyone but you and me (not too sure about you) – is rifling through cloud files, I’m not real confident about that.

Even though nearly everything you do today touches the cloud in one way or another, we still have a growing array of HD-based things around our house.

Only now, we call them personal, family, home clouds (kids like that better than back-up drives, NAS, shared storage).

They’re needed because kids didn’t grow up with just one device; they’ve got ‘em all.

Got, Use ‘Em All – Kids today never knew a world without a smartphone, ultralight notebook, tablet or game system that could instantly access news, information and entertainment. And the information could be stored on the device; not a lot, but some. When they wanted more space, they could store stuff in the cloud, but that’s hacked/whacked so much and the device has a USB port so viola! they use a HD for their “other” storage.

And according to IDC, they use them all, all the time.

Your folks probably complained you were on the phone all the time, but today’s kids really use their devices:

  • 53 per cent less than six hours a day;
  • 38 per cent 6-12 hours; and
  • 10 per cent (daughters) +12 hours.

All the while, they’re creating really important stuff, which is why they constantly back up their devices – 70 per cent to external personal/family clouds, 30 per cent to Swiss cheese public clouds.

According to IDC, your kids and mine (and companies/agencies) will produce in excess of 40 zettabytes over the next few years. Or to personalize it, that’s 5,200GB of data for every man, woman, kid on Earth.

Now 40 ZB is pretty hard to get your head around, but it’s estimated to be 57 times the numbers of grains of sand on all the beaches.

To reach that heady goal, data is expected to double every two years.

While most of that data is going to be produced by the 60B devices talking to each other, people are still going to be doing their part.

Office, Home – Sure, you store some of your stuff in the office data library and you can also store it in inexpensive public clouds. But for the real important data/content, you don’t want people to access or steal; nothing beats a personal, family, home cloud. Usually, a whole lot safer from “them.”

While IDC and others are quick to point out that businesses and organizations are only exploring a tiny fraction of the data with today’s constantly improving data analytics, kids and advanced kids are becoming less interested in helping those folks find and take advantage of that “valuable” information.

You know, information they want to get by studying social media use, discrete studies, medical/financial activity, security footage and little things like that.

It’s true, those data analytic people would like to see IHS’s bullish outlook for SSD to take over the world become real so they could gather, process all your information faster.

But industry experts like Jim Handy, of Objective Analysis, sees more wishful thinking than reality.

Uphill Climb – While SSD/flash storage unit sales may have increased dramatically, it’s also important to remember that they started from an extremely low base and the per unit/per GB cost is still much higher than HDs.

Oh, the need/potential is clearly there but…

Handy points out it takes a year or two to build a flash manufacturing facility from the ground up at a cost of about $10B; and there’s a lot of engineering, chemistry and magic in getting the processes right for optimum production performance.

 Then there’s the perpetual challenge industry challenge of:

  • People who push for volume and hope they’ll make a profit down the road; and
  • Folks who focus on performance, quality, support, service and a reasonable profit.

Still, there are people running toward the light every year.

Unless you follow the industry closely, it’s tough to choose the right company, pick the best storage product.

Handy and Tom Coughlin (Coughlin Associates) point out that:

  • Storage (especially flash) is bought for what’s under the hood, but that’s difficult to determine because there’s no eye-popping new case or improved UI (user interface).
  • Put five SSD drives (or HDs) down side-by-side and they look pretty much alike but they could be worlds apart.
  • People really need to read professional and customer reviews, check the options they’re considering and talk with friends.
  • Look beyond price because the content you store on the device is the most valuable stuff in the world.

With everyone creating and casting content into the cloud in hopes that someone will give it a safe home, it’s even more important to ensure your stuff is safe from information scraping eyes.

Beat On the Spread – People young and old steadily produce more and more content, data, information and yet, according to IDC, more than half of it has no place to rest when it’s not in use. We know that most of it is simply transient data (data surrounding the data to help it move across the Internet or is temporary – streamed, viewed, discarded) but the gnawing issue facing most IT and storage managers is that they never know what information has value, what doesn’t.

There are people who refer to the post-storage era; but frankly, I can’t figure out what in the heck they’re talking about. It can’t simply exist … somewhere.

I also know that maybe half of what I have stored is a duplicate – you know a copy or two just in case. And I’m going to de-dup right after I clean out the garage.

Until then, I’ll use the best, highest-capacity SSD drives on our devices and then add more cheap, really big HDs to keep the back-ups and dups.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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