Coughlin: SSDs will not kill disk drives

Coughlin Associates’ recent forecast on disk, SSD, and tape shipments extending to 2028 suggests that the rise in SSD sales will have minimal impact on disk drive shipments, contrary to some predictions of a complete phase-out of disk drives

Pure Storage is vigorously asserting that no new disk drives will be sold after 2028. CEO Charlie Giancarlo said in June: “The days of hard disks are coming to an end – we predict that there will be no new hard disks sold in 5 years.”

This is based on Pure’s belief that flash drives, especially the high-capacity QLC (4bits/cell) drives, are reducing the total cost of ownership for all-flash arrays to a point lower than that of disk arrays.

Yet this forecast is not shared by Thomas Coughlin in his August 2023 Digital Storage Technology newsletter. Page 151 of the newsletter has a chart forecasting tape, SSD and HDD capacity shipment out to 2028, which shows no decline in HDD capacity growth at all: 

The report text states: ”The chart [above] is the latest Coughlin Associates history and projections for hard disk drive, solid state drive and tape capacity shipments out to 2028. Barring a significant economic downturn, we expect demand for digital storage to support AI, IoT, media and entertainment as well as genomic and other medical applications to drive increased storage demand. This should bring growth back to HDDs, SSDs and magnetic tape capacity shipments as all of these storage media increase in their per-device storage capacities.”

A separate chart looks at disk drive form factor unit shipments out to 2028, and shows a recent decline reversing:

The yellow bars are 3.5-inch drives with the blue bars being 2.5-inch units. A disk drive capacity ship forecast also shows a steep rise to 2028: 

The report says: “We project a doubling of head and media demand by 2028, assuming a recovery in the nearline market starting in later 2023 or early 2024. The growth of capacity-oriented Nearline drives for enterprise and hyperscale applications will result in more components per drive out to 2028 and provides the biggest driver for heads and media.”

The industry seems to be divided on this matter. While Thomas Coughlin believes in the continued growth of disk drives, Charlie Giancarlo predicts a dominant future for flash drives. The outcome by 2028 will determine which perspective holds true.