SANTA CLARA, Calif.—At one time, the next big thing that was supposed to drive the NAND flash market was solid-state storage drives (SSDs).
Beyond being the next big driver for the NAND market, some at one time also went as far as to say that SSDs would replace traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) in PCs. Based on standard NAND flash, SSDs are low-power, storage devices that could threaten power-hungry HDDs.
While SSDs have seen steady growth over the years, they have to some degree been a disappointment, with the industry still mired in the early adoption phase. SSDs are still somewhat expensive for cost-sensitive consumers and there is a perception that these products have some inherit reliability issues in the enterprise.
Thanks to the recent downturn, NAND vendors were reluctant to drive down their chip prices as fast as before, putting SSDs even further behind the cost delta curve behind traditional HDDs. Prices for NAND chips have suddenly fallen, but it could be too little and too late for SSD vendors.
This is not to say the SSD market is a total bust. But now, the SSD crowd has given up the notion that SSDs will totally replace hard drives. Some wonder if SSDs will even find any mass appeal at all.
SSDs ''won't replace hard drives,'' said Walter Fry, distinguished member of the technical staff at Hewlett-Packard Co., during a panel at the Flash Memory Summit here this week. ''Hard disk drives will continue to lead in cost per capacity.''
Others say SSDs will have a more important role outside of the PC. During a keynote address, Andy Walls, technical lead for IBM Systems and Technology division's deployment of SSDs, argued that SSDs will play an important role in data centers.
Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective Analysis, said SSDs are growing at about the rate he expected, but that this rate is slower than many had hoped.
"People had false expectations [for SSDs]," Handy said. "The PC market for SSDs has been slow to develop. The strongest growth has occurred in areas where HDDs simply will not operate and in systems for which users are willing to pay a significant premium for an SSDs' faster speed or greater durability."
Still, the market is growing in select segments. Some 4 million SSDs will ship in 2010, according to Objective Analysis. The firm predicts that nearly 40 million SSDs will ship in 2015, accounting for more than $7 billion in revenues.
Back in 2007, research house International Data Corp. (IDC) forecast that the SSD market would hit $5.4 billion by 2011 and that mass adoption would occur by 2011 or 2012. But this week, Mario Morales, an analyst with IDC, admitted that mass market adoption of SSDs is still "a generation or two away."
And SSDs have not exactly driven NAND demand, as previously predicted. SSDs are expected to make up only 6.1 percent of worldwide NAND bit shipments in 2010, according to IDC. By 2013, SSDs are expected to make up only 9 percent of worldwide NAND bit shipments, according to the firm.
That pales in comparison to mobile phones, which are expected to make up 36.1 percent of NAND bit shipments this year and 38.9 percent in 2013, according to IDC. In 2010, mobile phones are expected to be the biggest market for NAND bit shipments, followed by MP3 players (21.5 percent), digital cameras (17.3 percent), USB drives (10.5 percent), and then SSDs.