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Mobile Devices: The Emporer's New Clothes

Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Monday, 19 September 2011

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be able to afford to eat in restaurants like this.” – Nick, “Flashdance,” Paramount (1983)

Storage is all about Performance . . . Plus

This year, the industry will ship more than $25 billion worth of servers and more than 800 million smart devices (desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets and smartphones). But only the big iron and IT folks care much about the servers.

If you listen to HP’s Apotheker and Wall Streeters, there’s no reason to care about laptops, less about desktops. Leo is washing his hands of the messy business. But when it comes to tablets and phones, everyone wants to take center stage so people can do their social media stuff, mobile transactions and digital content creation/consumption.

Tablets are projected to enjoy a 123+ percent compound annual growth rate from this year’s 31 million iPad and “other” units.

Next year, it’s estimated that about one billion smartphones will be sold worldwide (more than 4 billion phones overall).

But in 2014, 291 million notebooks (52% of the computing market) will be sold with China leading the demand curve.

All those devices “you can’t live without” let folks create, produce and replicate a whopping 1.8 Zettabytes (1.8 trillion Gigabytes) of content.

Store it…Somewhere
Of course, it’s all for nothing without the lowly stagehand…storage.

The way we’re using our devices – computers, laptops, smartphones -- content volumes will grow by a factor of nine in the next five years.

Content Chaos – Today, people not only produce their own content, they share it, mash it up, spread it around, save it everywhere…copies of copies and more. A Facebook photo doesn’t look that big, but it turns out four copies are made of every photo you post for…something. All that rich social media data produces mountains of information people want to mine, leverage, use, sell.

The lines between work and home life have blurred with our devices. People use their devices for …both. That includes all of the social media business/personal activities, i.e., music, video, relationship sites.

As Alex Owens said, “You're my friend, Jerk.”

Folks feel naked without their mobile devices/apps. IDC estimates that worldwide there are 4.8 devices per person. In the U.S., its 6.6 devices per person.

No wonder people who attended the Mobile Computing Summit last month and the Flash Memory Summit this month were bullish.

Solid Fuel – To deliver the loading speeds you expect, the ruggedness you hope for and battery life you demand, solid-state storage is a critical component in today’s mobile devices. We have 32GB in our phone, 64GB in our tablet. You probably have more…or want more.

They were looking at a solid compound annual growth of 100% in demand.

Consolidation Coming
That’s probably why there are more than 200 companies in the solid-state memory market.

Troy Winslow, of Intel, and Jim Handy, of Objective Analysis, agreed that even this growing market can’t support all of the players and there will be consolidation and weak players will disappear. Of course, they said that last year; and for every one that disappeared, a group of eager folks took their place.

But solid-state for your devices isn’t the focus of the industry anyway because that storage is commodity driven…good enough and cheap.

The real players deliver this stuff, but they focus on the real money…SSD (Solid-State Devices) and the enterprises.

Big Demand – To reap the information from the growing databases of information being kept in enterprises and cloud organizations, solid-state drives deliver the performance organizations and consumers expect. The sales potential looks so good; more than 200 firms are focused on delivering the best solution and still make a profit.

Here’s where the servers, the real storage is being used. They provide the support, access people want/need at the edge, for their applications, for their content and database workloads.

And all the stuff you just can’t afford to lose, can never replace?

People look to the safe, fluffy clouds.

Folks overlook the fact that those clouds are, in reality, huge server/storage farms – MS, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Carbonite, others.

For small companies and homes that don’t trust the big clouds, there are small clouds you can have at home/office from folks like NetApps, OWC.

What about the freebie places like DropBox? Bad guys seem to like it. They were recently outed for hanging out there to ruffle through the stuff folks put there for safe keeping.

Nick didn’t care, he said, “I'll bring him a doggy bag if you'll have dinner with me.”

Price Delta
The biggest problem for both big, small companies and you is that as great as it is for speed, energy efficiency and reliability; going all SSD isn’t cheap.

Price Struggle – Everyone wants the largest storage capacity possible and the lowest price available. When it comes to cost per GB, hard drives will continue to have the financial edge. While the cost of solid-state memory gets lower with each new technology advance, hard drives still lead the race. The new hybrid drives (solid-state/rotating media) provide an in between solution for consumers and organizations.

But the big buckets – hard drives – are inexpensive so they do all the unglamorous work of holding all those Zettabytes of stuff for you and your boss on the systems.

Solid-state folks like to point out how much more reliable their stuff is than old-fashioned HDs…67 percent more reliable.

That means solid-state fails too.

Failing is Inevitable – Regardless of the storage medium, failure will occur with both hard drives and solid-state….usually at the worst possible moment. It’s one of the reasons that everyone talks about backup and people only become true believers after the fact.

Yeah, but how about – higher performance, smaller footprint, lower power consumption, greater reliability, super IOPs (input/output operations per second).

Well, if you ask long and hard enough, even chip folks will say:
- Performance varies, and in some cases it’s worse than the HD
- All that storage density can cause power, thermal “challenges”
- Reliability as an archival medium has some limitations, failure can “vary”
- IOP has a lot to do with things like app response time, theoretical workloads, workload/app threading, stuff normal folks don’t care about. How does it scale and perform over time is what matters.

To provide both storage capacity and performance, the HD folks like Seagate have developed Hybrid drives that add solid-state on the front-end of the drive.

Hybrid Bridge
It takes a brave (or foolhardy) person like Seagate’s John Moon to stand up in front of a bunch of chip folks and say something like, “guys let’s work together and solve the problems the customers have – both the enterprise and individual user.

At last year’s flash summit, he was concerned about having to move out of the Valley following his presentation.

This year, he was a little more confident; and in fact had some of the key industry players like Intel, Micron, others agreeing there were places for JBOD (just a bunch of drives), hybrid drives and SSD.

If you need raw storage capacity (median storage per user has grown to 2,600GB), HD works.

If you need capacity with some speed enhancement for the OS, key working apps and/or read-ahead I/O activity, then the hybrid will be a good solution.

If you demand nothing but performance and price isn’t a major concern, then SSD is the answer.

When he looked at the cost, Nick recalled, “I was so poor I had hand-me-down lunches.”

The folks at Tom’s hardware even told the summit attendees where the price point was:
- 55% of their folks would pay 10% more for SSD
- 25% plus would spring for 10-20% more
- The rest had other issues

Of course, that’s for equivalent capacity and it will be quite awhile before the SSD people can offer a 500GB SSD for around $50!

Growth Ahead
O’Connor, whose firm focuses on leading-edge solutions, agreed saying that hybrid drives provide an incremental performance improvement and that there is a growing demand for solutions that meet the full range of consumer/business demands.

Lonely Out There – With mobile devices, content sites and information proliferating everywhere, the cold hard fact is we have volumes of data flying around that has no place to rest and worse--isn’t protected. It is true though that about half of that content is transient, moving from A to B (like TV shows) that are sent out in millions of streams but never saved. Without the critical storage component, your device is little more than a doorstop.

During the Future Trends panel O’Connor noted that the storage demand is outstripping the industry’s ability to deliver all of the capacity that is needed. He feels it is more important to help people have a better understanding of the trade-offs so they can choose the right solution for their application.

Intel’s Winslow agreed, noting that the right partnerships will add value for the customer because the solutions are becoming more complex; and today, not all solutions are created equal.

More, More, More – Storage manufacturers produce devices round-the-clock, round-the-calendar to meet the world’s growing demands. Both hard drive and solid-state producers focus on storing more stuff in smaller spaces to deliver more capacity and the best possible price. As far out as we can see, content producers/consumers are way ahead.

Objective Analysis’ Handy said that with the overwhelming volume of content that is looking for some place to sleep at night and the demand for storage – all kinds, even tape – will continue to grow.

Morphing Products
Handy pointed out that enterprises are increasing their use of SSDs in their data centers. “We’re seeing a tremendous change in personal, business devices,” he commented. “In a few years, we’re going to look back at tablets that are so much in demand today and will wonder why we just had to have one. There’s going to be a whole new family of devices we’ll be using all the time, everywhere and they’ll all require storage. The industry needs to help designers make them as feature/performance rich as possible.”

So how is the industry going to keep up with you consumers?

It’s a Stretch – While storage industry folks stretch their technologies and production capacities as much as they can, the consumer still wants better performance and a lower-priced ticket for the show. Source: Paramount


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