Hybrid hard drives: Single unit storage tiering or an interim fad technology?

Storage can frequently be the bottleneck in any computing environment, especially PCs and laptops. IT pro Rick Vanover poses the question of whether hybrid hard drives are the solution for storage now, or simply a solution that will be obsolete too soon.

When it comes to my own computing experiences, I find myself always wanting more than I have. Whether it be more memory, a larger screen (or more screens as two isn’t enough anymore), better connectivity, or my storage. Now, storage isn’t a problem in terms of gigabytes and terabytes; I’ve got plenty. Fast storage is where I’d like to see some improvements, and I can’t afford all solid state drive technologies.

Enter the hybrid hard drive. The hybrid hard drive is part solid state media and part rotational storage. The solid state component is usually a small piece of NAND flash memory and the rotational components are typical SATA storage. I’ve spot-checked a few devices, and have seen that today’s offering of hybrid hard drives can offer 500 GB of storage, with 4 GB of that as SSD storage. I’ve found smaller offerings, at 320 or 250 GB in today’s offerings, but in both cases the 4 GB of SSD storage is the same. The Seagate Momentus XT line of drives is the most popular series of hybrid hard drives today (be sure to check Paul Mah’s 2008 post about these drives in their early stages).

The basic premise of these drives is that it self-manages access between the two media types for best performance. While I am considering a unit, I’ve not used them. Further, it is safe to say that the SSD tier within the drive is optimized for blocks on disk that are frequently read. Read operations are important, but sequential and random writes are part of the game also.

My big issue with the concept of hybrid hard drives is that they may remove any configuration from geeks like me. You know who you are, the ones who like the knobs and dials. My concern with hybrid hard drives is that they don’t offer too many options, and frankl,y 4 GB of solid state storage would go by quickly.

What is your take on hybrid hard drives today? Are they a good mix between the normal “cheap and deep” storage and the highest performing tiers? Or are they a simply a stopgap? Share your comments below.