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2009 - Solid-State Drives Begin to Reach Consumers

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have existed for decades and the first NAND flash-based SSDs were introduced by M-Systems in 1995. The main benefit of solid-state storage was its reliability compared to traditional magnetic rotating media, another advantage was performance. Consequently, SSDs were used by aerospace, military, oil and gas and other industries requiring reliability in harsh environments.

Early in the aughts numerous companies suggested that solid-state storage could greatly improve performance of consumer PCs as well as enterprise servers. But back then NAND flash memory was so expensive than no one really consider to make such drives available massively. But as time went on, prices on NAND flash dropped, multi-level cell (MLC) flash became more reliable, controllers became smarter and benefits compared to hard disk drives (HDDs) became even more significant. Sometimes in the middle of the decade a number of different companies started to demonstrate their SSD products at trade-show touting the revolution in desktop storage.

Several flash-centric and memory-centric companies introduced SSDs for mobile and desktop computers back in 2007, but the prices were so high that actual sales were very low, even enthusiasts seeking for maximum performance did not install them. But in 2008 price on NAND flash memory dropped further and loads of companies serving PC enthusiasts successfully introduced their lineups of SSDs that were affordable enough to be adopted by consumers.

As it usually happens, it took another two years for SSDs to finally skyrocket in terms of sales. According to iSuppli market tracking agency, global sales of SSDs reached 1.4 million units and generated revenue of about $127 million in 2008. Already in 2009, manufacturers of SSDs managed to sell 5.8 million solid-state drives, four times more than in the previous year; their revenue soared to $883 million.

The year 2009 clearly demonstrated that a lot of customers - both consumers and enterprises - demand either performance or reliability of flash-based storage. This is clearly a turning point for the storage industry at large. Going forward the demand towards SSDs will only increase and HDD makers will have to find ways to massively improve performance of their drives to stay competitive.

Perhaps, HDD makers should integrate large amounts of flash storage into traditional hard drives and create ultra-fast hybrid storage devices; or invent new magnetic recording mechanisms and heads that could either deliver high performance themselves or could work stably with extreme spindle speeds (which is not an option for mobile systems as higher speeds mean higher power consumption too). Of course, there are sport cars and there are family vans; therefore, hard drives will remain in desktops, where storage space is crucial, but they can easily sit in the neighborhood to ultra-fast SSDs. In case of mobile computers solid-state storage simply have too many advantages over hard drives and it is inevitable that the total available market of mobile HDDs will eventually shrink.

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