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For the last decade, storage has been a commoditized component of Embedded Integrated Computing Systems (EICSs) with the most cost effective solutions utilizing hard drives. Hard drives have maintained market dominance with respect to cost per MB stored as form factors have gone down and data rates and capacities have increased through higher rotation rates and platter densities. The largest weakness for this mature technology is the higher likelihood of problems because of the spinning media and sensitivity to vibration, impacts, and environmental conditions. This has left the EICS market for hard drive based storage susceptible to disruptive technology and VDC believes this transition is under way. In fact, we see many of the embedded system suppliers rapidly adding products and services to facilitate the transition. As we begin to set the agenda for the 2013 embedded hardware service, we believe that storage will be a key area to focus on with three alternatives to hard disk storage technology leading the charge.
Solid State Drives: Solid State Drives (SSDs) are designed to be deployed as drop in replacements for legacy hard drives removing the second barrier to entry after price per MB. SSDs do not have moving mechanical parts and are therefore much more reliable which makes them increasingly sought by the OEMs and customers of EICSs. As the prices for these SSDs units have come down and the capacities and performance has, at the same time risen, they are now suitable for many price sensitive OEM vertical markets and applications. They also use much less power and generate less heat which increases operational savings. There is one potential drawback in that the lifetimes and performance of SSDs are not unlimited. Storage cells can only be written to a finite amount of times before they become unreliable. The controllers inside the SSDs account for this by ensuring that wear is distributed evenly across the storage cells but, how well/fast they do this may vary significantly by product. As a typical SSD reaches the end of its useful life, it will become appreciably slower as the controller has more difficulty allocating the write function to available/reliable cells.
Deeply Embedded Storage: By eliminating the traditional hard drive form factors and data bus structures, the semiconductor storage components can be utilized more efficiently by being embedded in very close proximity to the processing components. These can be plug-in modules that go into backplane or mother board slots or components mounted directly on the computer board. These solutions can be used in embedded applications that require high processing capability but, at the same time are constrained by weight and power limits.
Remote / Network Attached Storage: Embedded and/or cloud storage products in many cases provides OEMs and their customers with an alternative storage method suitable for many EICS markets and applications. In these cases, groups or individual pieces of equipment containing EICSs have local storage needed for immediate operation but the bulk of the needed storage is provided from a private cloud using network attached storage or contracted from a cloud service provider on a pay as you go basis. In either case, this remote storage technology can have valuable product features to avoid data loss and/or unnecessary duplication while assuring availability.
If you are a storage, SSD, and/or EICS supplier, we look to your opinion on storage within the embedded system market. 2013 looks to be an exciting year for embedded systems.