Next to price, capacity has been among the top issues that level out solid-state flash disk with magnetic hard drives. If not for those two factors, solid-state disks would be the runaway winner offering ruggedness, speed and small footprints. However, recent developments are starting to change the conditions.

According to the “New Data Center” benchmark published by Nemertes Research, “Storage is growing at a rate of 22% year-on-year through 2005 and 2006 (predicted to continue through 2007), and many companies top even that growth, reporting growth rates of 100%, 150%, and in some cases 300% or more.” This only proves the point that storage capacity has gone into the level of a commodity.

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Way back in the pre-PC era, storage would only refer to an attic, storeroom, or any space where you dump infrequently used items that you plan to access in the near future. People are only limited to any amount of space available for that purpose. You’ll have to literally fit them all in, otherwise, it goes to thrash. The same principle applies to data storage prior to its commoditization. Previously, unless you’re working for the military or handle other highly confidential data, you wouldn’t need that much storage space.

But that ain’t true now.

What’s Driving Capacity to get Bigger

According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Tracker, worldwide external disk storage systems factory revenues grew 8.5% in the second quarter to $4.2 billion for the 13th consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth. The total disk storage systems market grew to $5.9 billion for the quarter, up 6.0% from the prior year’s quarter. For the first time, total disk storage systems capacity shipped 704 petabytes, growing 51.5% from the same quarter one year ago.

A huge part of this increasing demand comes from the enterprise. Online transactions and networked storage require high capacity and speed for a good backend systems support. Blade storage has come into the picture offering advantages in size, functionality and cost of ownership. It offers bigger capacity at smaller footprints, eliminating complex set-ups for cooling facilities and cables. Given this scenario, upgrades in storage capacities come as frequently as the demand for more space peaks.

Military and industrial applications take another chunk of the demand. As of late, high capacity takes center stage in defining the results of experiments, research or data gathering projects. Such has happened in the NASA CREAM Project where a total of 36GB of heavy-nuclei data was recorded onto a 43GB E-Disk flash drive over a period of 41 days and 22 hours on-flight. The project’s objective was to investigate the composition of ultra-high energy cosmic rays on board a Long Duration Balloon (LDB) vehicle developed by NASA. In cases like this, data storage capacity is as crucial as any other component of the project. It becomes the by-product of initial investigations, giving scientists critical information for accurate conclusions and discoveries.

The consumer industry is not so far behind when it comes to demand for bigger storage capacities. The introduction of Windows Vista to the market marks the need for more storage if only to improve performance by speeding up basic operations such as start-up, shut down and resume functions.

The widespread digitization of data and its convenient access via the web is another issue. From high-resolution videos to satellite maps ready for downloading as needed, consumers have become trigger-happy mammals in hoarding all kinds of information within the bounds of their interest. Knowing you have them on your PC ready for access anytime is a surefire cause to long for more storage capacities. This demand is coming not from one entity but from the widest range of industries including government, enterprise, military, healthcare, banking, education and of course consumer. All of these industries have somehow expanded their applications producing more files that will eventually need bigger storage. Desktop publishing, animation and digital video editing have increased the demand for storage in offices. 3G and multimedia cellphones on the other hand, triggered the increase in capacity for mobile storage.

The last but biggest influence for the growth in solid-state storage capacity is the substantial decrease in the prices of raw materials. Since the solid-state disk’s inception about fifteen years ago, the decline in prices have been dramatic year on year. Just last year, the cost of flash memory was $55 per GB; now it is pegged at $30. Factors like cheaper raw materials, simpler processes, competition and higher demand continually push the price of storage downward, thinning the difference when compared to magnetic hard drives.

In the end, capacity and price are interlocking factors causing the growth of storage capacities. The huge capacity that was once only offered by magnetic hard drives is now possible for solid-state disks at a price point that can fight head-on in the market.