RealTime IT News

Victory For Flash as Hitachi Cans Tiny Hard Disks

Hitachi is kissing production of its smallest hard drive disks goodbye, citing poor sales and the increasing shift to flash technology when it comes to demand for mobile device storage.

The Tokyo-based manufacturer announced Friday it would no longer produce one-inch drives, noting in a statement that the industry shipped just 33,000 one-inch and 1.8-inch disks of the total 133 million drives sold during the third quarter of 2007.

The statement also indicates that Hitachi's 1.8-inch drives could be permanently shelved for the same business reason -- a shrinking customer base.

"We expect to see our 1.8-inch shipment continue to decline as we focus our resources on the larger, more stable segments -- the 2.5 inch mobile, 3.5-inch desktop and 2.5- [to] 3.5-inch enterprise [drives]," the company said in a statement on Friday.

Spokespeople from Hitachi were not available for further comment by press time.

According to a Reuters report, fellow Tokyo-based electronics vendor Fujitsu also dropped earlier plans to push out a new line of 1.8-inch hard disk drives, citing similar reasons.

In an interview with InternetNews.com, industry analyst Chris Roden said the product decisions reflect how flash technology is taking root within mobile and handheld device development.

Yet the hard disk drive, he added, isn't going extinct anytime soon. Flash has yet to beat hard disk technology when it comes to cost per gigabyte and the hard drive is still required for storing multimedia files and video, he said.

"It's a commodity business, and as the price of flash comes down, the demand for the technology will continue to increase," said Roden, a research analyst with Parks Associates. "Manufacturers can't be just flash or [hard drive]-focused, as there will always be applications for each.

He added that shifting manufacturing resources to support both flash and magnetic media would give manufacturers the best of both worlds.

One way the two technologies coexist is in now hybrid storage, which integrates both flash and magnetic material in a single device. However, that technology is at an early stage, with such products only now coming into the market.

Even Hitachi believes the two technologies can and will both have a role. A company spokesperson referred to a recent position paper written by John Best, former Chief Technologist at Hitachi GTS. The paper, "Hard Disk Drives Still Rule for High Capacity," noted that each technology can provide specific solutions for specific needs.

For example, if and when flash permeates the laptop marketplace, Hitachi believes consumers and enterprises will still need to rely on external hard disk drives to store files like home users' ever-increasing digital media assets.

When it comes to the desktop environment, flash "will start to make increasing sense as the price for the low amount of gigabytes needed on those machines falls below $100," the paper reads.

Yet when desktops rely on higher-performance computing, flash technology is not an affordable approach to gain needed performance, the paper also notes.

"Flash has taken over certain segments previously owned by [hard drives], such as smaller MP3 players. But as flash moves into new areas, it opens up additional areas for hard disk drives," the paper states. "Storage capacities are increasing almost daily, and thanks to their continued lower cost, all of that stuff will be stored" on hard disk drives.

It's unclear, however, where Hitachi views those "additional areas," and whether it plans still further changes in its hard drive strategy.