There have been relatively huge changes in the solid state drive (SSD) market this year. While things had been fairly flat for many years, with gradual, 10 percent per year growth in storage speeds, latency and capacity, 2015 storage trends have brought considerable improvements. In particular, speeds of NVMe-based 3D V-NAND drives have increased by a factor of ten or more, and capacities have gone up almost as dramatically, even as costs have dropped. The sizes of the drives and their power consumption have been decreased dramatically, making it possible to fit more and more drives into a storage appliance, as well as bring higher capacity drives to tablets, laptops and other small devices where power consumed and real estate on the motherboard are at a premium.
3D V-NAND Technology
One of the key drivers of improvements in SSDs has been the advent of 3D V-NAND technology in SSDs like the new Samsung 850 PRO and 845 DC PRO, which stacks up to 32 layers of cells in the same space that used to house one layer. This means that even with cells that have been increased in size for greater reliability, capacities have gone up by 20x or more. In addition, the new M.2 format has reduced the size of SSDs from the familiar 2.5-inch drive to half an inch wide and no more than 6.5 inches long. Two M.2 SSDs can fit easily in the same space as one 2.5-inch drive.
The capacities of 3D V-NAND drives will continue to increase at dramatic rates, as manufacturers move from 24 layers, to 32, to as many as 100, perhaps yielding SSD single-drive capacities that may exceed the highest capacity hard disk drives (HDDs) available, which are currently 10 terabytes (TB). Since the equivalent 10 or 16 TB SSDs are also a small fraction of the 3.5 inch hard drive’s size and power consumption, the advantage will be even greater, yielding faster, higher capacity and more efficient servers and storage systems.
Solid State Drives Versus Hard Disk Drives
Solid state drives have always had higher performance than HDDs, but 2015 saw the advantage go from 10x HDD performance at around 500 MB/s, to 60 or 70x, with 3,300 MB/s NVMe drives. In addition, price drops have brought SSDs closer to price parity with HDDs, with current costs half of what they were at the beginning of the year. The newest Samsung SSD, the Samsung 950 Pro NVMe drive, offers incredible performance at a cost per terabyte that’s lower than last year’s 2.5-inch SSDs.
It’s likely that 2016 will see improvements in SSDs as great or greater than the 2015 storage trends. It’s very likely that the advantages of the NVMe SSDs will result in rapid penetration of the devices into a wide variety of products, from tablets and laptops to workstations, servers and storage systems. In fact, the performance of NVMe drives may force manufacturers to improve other areas of their systems, since drive speeds, latency and throughputs will no longer be the limiting factor of storage — more than three or four NVMe drives can saturate not only a 10 gigabit Ethernet connection, but also the PCIe backplanes of servers and network-attached or storage area network devices. At the end of 2015, storage manufacturers are packing 512 TB into one 3u (5.25-inch high) rack mount chassis. By the end of 2016, it’s entirely conceivable that the equivalent appliances could hold five petabytes in the same size chassis.