The end of spinning disks

Did you ever wonder how long this industry will rely on spinning disk? I do and I think that within 5 to 10/15 years we’ve reached the end of the abilities of disks to keep up with demand and data growth ratios. A report from Andrey V Makarenko of Cornell University estimates that around 1700 Exabytes (yes EXA-bytes) will be generated in 2011 alone with growth rates to over 2500 EXAbytes next year.

With new technologies invented and implemented in science, space exploration, health care and last but not least consumer electronics this growth ratio will increase exponentially. Although disk drive technology has kept pretty much pace with Moore’s law you can see the advances in development of this technology is declining. Rotational speed has been steady for years and the edges of perpendicular recording have almost been reached. This means that within the foreseeable future there will be a flipping point were demand will outgrow the capacity. Even if production facilities would be increased to keep up with demand, do we as society want to have these massive infrastructures which are very expensive to build and maintain as well as having a huge burden on our environment. So were does this leave us, do we have to stop generating data or generate it in a far more efficient way or should we also combine this with aggressive data life cycle management. I wrote an article earlier in this blog which shows how this could be achieved and it doesn’t take a scientist to understand it.
To go back to the subject there are talks that SSD will take over a significant amount of magnetic based drives and maybe it is so however it still lacks on reliability in one form or another. I’m sure this will be resolved in the not so distant future however will this technology be as cost effective as spinning disks have been in the last decades. I think this will take a significant amount of time to reach that point. So where do we go from here? It is my take that in addition to the uptake of SSD based drives significant advances will be made in 3D optical storage. This will not only allow for massive increase in capacity per cubic inch but also a reduction in cost, energy as well as a massive increase in performance.
Advancements in laser technology and photonic behavior as well as optical media will clear the pathway of adoption into data-centers the moment this will become commercially attractive.

There are numerous scientific studies as well as commercial entities working on this type of technology and due to market demand add significant pressure on the development of it. Check out this wikipedia article on 3D optical storage to get some more information around the technicalities.

Let me know your opinion.

Erwin van Londen

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