Out-running the Bear

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I just got back from the Gartner Data Center Conference 2009 in Las Vegas.  It was a good show – then again, can you have a bad show in Vegas?  I mean, it’s Vegas!  Anyhow, there were lots of decision makers roaming around engaged in a plethora of interesting discussions and speaker sessions.

One intriguing conversation kept occurring in the Spectra booth.  Joe Customer would walk up and say, "You guys do tape? We’re getting away from tape completely!  Well – except for… The stuff that’s going off site that we can’t replicate because the bandwidth costs too much, even with dedup."  Or… "the data we’ve got to keep for 10 years – or keep indefinitely." 
Every customer  who started by saying he or she was moving away from tape finished with the “except” phrase at which point in time we talked about all the data they had on tape and how long they’d have to keep it.  And how much less expensive it would be to do so on power-friendly tape than on spinning disk.  The conversations were enlightening.
On November 25th, Sepaton (you know, the “no tapes” spelled backward guys) published their own research from the UK in which they specifically state that of the 100 storage managers surveyed, only 9% said they don’t use tapes in their backups.  That’s right, only 9%.  It would have been interesting to see what the numbers would have been had they asked about tape use in archive as well!
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering how out-running the bear works into the story around tape usage conversations at the Gartner show.  It has to do with SSD.  Many of the customers who were talking about tape use also talked about installing SSD – because it was high performing, removable, and coming down quickly in price.  Fair enough, but what about the bear?
If the price of SSD is at hundreds or thousands of dollars per gigabyte, falling fast, and disk at dollars or tens of dollars per gigabyte, falling more slowly, and tape at pennies per gigabyte, also falling, which price point is SSD going to eclipse first as it comes down? Disk.
It’s likely that SSD will become highly price competitive to disk when it gets within 30% of the purchase price of spinning platters simply because it draws little power.   At that point, SSD will be not only high performing and removable, but also economically competitive — but not yet with tape.
The SSD-disk-tape scenario reminds me of the story of the two hikers who encounter a bear in the woods and are forced to run for their lives.  At some point, one hiker stops to put on running shoes instead of hiking boots.  The second hiker also stops to ask if the first hiker thinks he’ll out-run the bear with running shoes to which the first hiker replies, “I don’t have to out-run the bear. I just have to out-run you.” In the case of SSD, tape, and disk it looks like SSD is the bear as price comes down. 

After that, who do you think has to out-run whom when it comes to long-term economic advantage? Leave us a comment on the topic below: