Is flash the future for data storage?

Over the past few decades, hard drives have been the most common form of data storage for both individuals and businesses alike. Devices utilising flash media such as SSDs and USB drives have been growing in popularity, though, and are now commonly used in off-the-shelf consumer electronics such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. Many commentators and consumers have argued that this represents a shift in data storage trends; that the hard drive is in decline and due to fall into obsolescence. But just how accurate are these claims?

There can be little doubt that the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets has contributed greatly to the adoption of flash media. Flash storage is much more svelte than media which uses platters and spindles and is ideally suited to mobile devices as a result. In fact, due to their size, hard drives are simply not suitable for these products.

As far as desktops and laptops are concerned, though, the major selling point for flash-based storage media are their read/write speeds. Flash media does not utilise moving parts and, as a result, is significantly quicker than devices which do. This means that it appeals to a niche portion of consumers, specifically gamers and others for whom decreasing loading times is a priority; not necessarily those using their computer for more standard fayre such as internet browsing, document creation and so on. As flash-based storage is more expensive (a 500gb SSD is over £100 more than a hard drive with the same capacity), we think a lot of consumers will continue to choose hard drives over flash media when this option is presented to them.

The cost of flash-based storage is – akin to all developing technology – falling, though, and this is certain to result in all off-the-shelf products that contain some form of storage media being fitted with flash media as standard in the near future. Whilst this will inevitably lead to fewer people using hard drives on a daily basis, we’re certain that they’ll still be widely used – just not as peoples’ main means of storing data.

Consider, for example, whether it’ll make sense for people to use flash media in backup devices like external drives? Consumers buy these devices to backup their data meaning that there is little benefit to them offering superior read and write speeds. Value for money is far more likely to appeal to consumers looking to purchase one as a result.

Data centres, too, are unlikely to use SSDs or other flash media. They may offer superior speed but, with their customers looking for secure and affordable backup options, there’s no reason to shoulder the extra costs.

So, whilst it may not be entirely inaccurate to state that the majority of us will soon be using some type of flash media as our primary means of storing our data, devices used for backing up, whether online or offline, are still likely to use hard drives. They are, if nothing else, still the most common storage media we see in our data recovery lab.

Ultimately, the hard drive is likely to play a part in data storage for many years to come. Like tape, it will become a popular media for backing up data and it will be some time before it becomes obsolete.