SSD 102: The Ins And Outs Of Solid State Storage

The benefits introduced by solid state drives are undeniable. However, there are a few pitfalls to consider when switching to this latest storage technology. This article provides a rundown for beginners and decision makers.

Solid state drives (SSDs) seemingly have it all: storage capacities of up to 512 GB, blazing performance, low power consumption and heat, great efficiency, and incredible physical durability. In everyday life, SSDs seem all but perfect. But there are still some limits and pitfalls. We'll look at the details you need to know about SSD technology as it moves into a variety of applications at home and in businesses.

The SSD Market

First, we need to divide the market into segments. One way to approach this is to differentiate between low-cost, mainstream, and high-end offerings. This is typically what you find when searching for SSD reviews or doing price comparisons. Another method distinguishes consumer- from business-class products, roughly translating to client systems versus servers. Since the technology behind those two groups is similar, this article covers both worlds, pointing at individual aspects where necessary.

Business and enterprise products are typically not available in retail stores, as these target larger server and storage companies that assemble larger-scale systems. SSD makers, such as Samsung, Intel, Micron and Toshiba usually provide special support for solution providers. Samsung recently announced a partnership with Seagate to create enterprise-class SSDs. Clearly, the worlds of traditional magnetic and cutting-edge silicon storage are starting to mingle.

Trends and Developments

While the performance levels and efficiency of SSDs have developed quickly, capacities have not, owing to sluggish increases in NAND bit density. Huge demand from the smartphone sector has dragged on SSD evolution in PC environments. And the awaited transition to 3-bit cell flash memory is happening more slowly than expected. As a consequence, SSDs are getting more affordable, but it doesn’t seem like they'll escalate the capacity battle against hard drives any time soon.

Therefore, SSDs are expected to remain a minority player in the storage market compared to conventional hard drives. But 2010 marks the year in which SSDs achieved critical mass. Prices for entry-level products have come down to less than $99. On the enterprise side, power consumption should be considered. A 2008 study by McKinsey & Company found that data centers consume 0.5% of the world’s energy, causing more CO2 emissions than all of Argentina. The EPA estimates that data center energy consumption will reach 3% in the U.S. by 2011, making SSDs almost essential for keeping energy draw in check.

Getting an Overview

While enterprise and client SSD specifications don’t differ much, choosing the right drive or the right environment is very important. We will now look at how SSDs work, what they can do for you, where you should be careful when preparing for deployment, how your business will be impacted, and how to make proper buying decisions.

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  • another alex
    "Solutions with 8+ GB of RAM and RAM drives to hold the swap file are the more elegant and higher-performing approaches."

    Really? Putting the swap file on a RAM drive is a good idea? I'd like to see more in-depth investigation into this, as my understanding is that the swap file is there to keep memory pages that have been swapped out of physical RAM to free up more space. If that is changed to effectively mean moving them from one bit of RAM to another bit, then it nullifies the whole point and you'd be better off setting a 0 size swap file and leaving that RAM available for normal use.
  • david__t
    ^^ I totally agree with that , however some programs and games simply do not work without a swap file. Theoretically if you did have 8GB+ then you shouldn't use the swap file at all, however everything I read always recommends leaving this turned on regardless of system specs. Still, moving data around from one memory area to another is vastly superior to that of memory to hard disc and back again - if nothing else, it frees up SATA bus bandwidth.
  • sirkillalot
    im still not convinced to get a ssd imm i guess a wd vraptor will do 4 now
  • proletarian
    i've been considering an ssd for a while, no point jumping just yet, gonna look at the market a bit longer, looking at a few drives, all 120gb models, gonna grab em when they're being replaced.
  • jamie_macdonald
    I jumped to a Vertex 120gb (v2) about a month back ... apart from paying £270 for such a small drive i don't regret it ...the time saved has payed for itself allready and the responsiveness of the OS is like awesome..

    ..only holdback if you cannot afford it ...cause the more that can and do .. the better for all of us.

    if me "biting the bullet" means the cost will come down in the end then it'll all have been worth it ...and if not worth it for that fact, least i have enjoyed some PC advancment ..something i had waited a long long time to do watching the prices fall and the drives get faster..

    if you can ... get one ... all i can say :)
  • jamie_macdonald

    Loving the spam
  • Ko0lHaNDLuKe
    They are still way too expensive for me to even consider getting one!
  • Rab1d-BDGR
    Given that modern controllers take care of write distribution, and file deletion won't always trigger physical deletion of blocks, it's advisable to plan a secure erase strategy for drives that are to be decommissioned in the future. Tools such as Secure Erase 4.0 are helpful.

    I find tools such as a lump-hammer quite effective too... ;-)
  • gdilord
    david__thowever some programs and games simply do not work without a swap file.
    Setting the swap file to 2MB is an effective work around in many cases.
  • ignoramus
    Unless you can break the silicon (not just the packaging) into quite small pieces it is usually possible to recover data from a flash memory. On the other hand, a sufficient sequence of repeated (erase + random over-write) is hack-proof