At a time when many hard drive manufacturers are looking into producing SSDs (solid state drives) as a way to create a new market opportunity, Western Digital is dragging its feet. Claiming the company is open to entering the SSD market when it presents "appropriate opportunity," Richard Rutledge, Western Digital's SVP for marketing, recently shed a bit more light on the company’s position with regards to this segment of the market.
According to Rutledge, "Western Digital enters markets that exist, announces products when they are available, and runs a tight model with opportunities greater than resources such that we take a controlled, methodical, sequential, incremental approach to product portfolio expansion.”
“We do not currently supply to either several platform categories [game console, car, and phone] or product categories [SAS/FC-AL on 10K/15K, SSD]. This said, we know [and] understand each of these segments and are open to enter any [or] all of them when they present appropriate opportunity."
In the past, Rutledge has stated that there are two interesting SSD markets, a low-end zone and a high-end zone. At the lower end of the spectrum, Rutledge envisions SSDs that are value-priced at less than $30, and that could be used in consumer handheld mobile platforms such as phones and cameras. This segment of the SSD market could also include use in a quarter to a third of netbooks. Rutledge also predicts that a new category of devices will develop, which he calls SmartBooks. As he sees it, a SmartBook would be a smartphone with a Linux/ARM platform base. SmartBooks would be priced between $200 and $300, compared to the slightly more expensive netbooks, and will have a larger, seven- to nine-inch screen and a keyboard. (He’s saying netbooks have nine- to 11-inch screens.) SmartBooks would also have hinging screen lids that fold down onto a keyboard base.
Given all of Rutledge’s comments and visions in this value category, it’s clear Western Digital has looked at this market very closely and perhaps is thinking about entering the arena. Of course, only time will tell for sure what the company’s plans are.
At the other end of the value spectrum, Rutledge also described a high-end value zone that would cost more than $199 per drive and cater to the enterprise flash drive area and augment Fibre Channel hard drives. Rutledge acknowledged that STEC, Intel, and Samsung are all participating in this market.
SSDs definitely have a performance edge over traditional hard drives, but also face write speed and lifecycle limitations. Rutledge characterized SSD as 'F' media, meaning it is fast at reads and fragile in the sense that it can wear out. He considers traditional hard drives as 'S' media that are slow, but safe and have few endurance or retention issues.
Given Rutledge’s comments, we can’t say for sure what Western Digital will do. The company has obviously given it a lot of thought, and we’ll be ready and waiting when they finally do jump on the bandwagon.