Fixing Modern SSDs for the Enterprise

Are modern solid-state drives ready for the enterprise situations?  We've discussed how the market is beginning to combat the high price-to-performance ratios for solid-state technology.  But that doesn't mean that SSDs are ready, technologically speaking, to leap into business servers the second the price-point hits acceptable levels.  At least, that's the stance that HP is taking, predicting that solid-state technology won't see the light of day in the enterprise world until at least 2012.

In an interview with, Jimmy Daley, an ISS Marketing Manager at HP, said that solid-state drives currently lack a number of key criteria that make them useful in an enterprise environment.  It's unrealistic to think that consumer or even current enterprise-grade SSDs could just be thrown into a server as-is.  That's not to say that companies haven't tried. HP itself uses solid-state drives in its own ProLiant servers.  But this is a specialized scenario, says Daley--modern solid-state drives just aren't ready to hop into data centers for a few of the following reasons:

Lacking Critical Enterprise Features

Solid-state drives don't contain the features of modern magnetic storage that makes them convenient for an IT environment, like the ability to be used in hot-swap installations.  The code for hot-swapping was never build into typical solid-state firmware, and this is a crucial component of enterprise IT environments.  That said, SSDs still take the prize for their energy-savings capabilities over conventional magnetic storage.  

Lack of Performance

It's common-knowledge that SSDs can deliver powerful read performance compared to conventional hard drives. After all, reading data from flash cells is a near-instantaneous process compared to the milliseconds it takes a drive head to move over to the appropriate section of a spinning platter.  But due to their need to erase blocks of flash memory before all writes, SSDs are still underwhelming when it comes to adding new data to the drive.  Until this improves, solid-state technology will still take second places to magnetic-based storage.

Close to Death

Depending on their construction, SSDs can take a hit in their longevity.  While single-level-cell SSDs have been estimated to hold a lifespan of approximately 100,000 uses, multi-level-cell SSDs compact more bits onto each individual flash cell to improve capacity and lower costs.  The downside?  Their total available writes can drop to the thousands range.

But that's not all.  According to a different report by Gerson Lehrman Group, two more factors are preventing widespread SSD adoption in the enterprise market.  The first, cost, is a familiar tune to most solid-state-related articles.  SSDs simply don't offer the capacity that a business could otherwise purchase with magnetic storage.  While the aforementioned nod to power-savings does help the equation, perhaps even allowing a business to consider a hybrid magnetic/SSD environment for different parts of a data center, the waiting game continues for equalizing the price/performance question of modern solid-state technology.

And were SSDs to even become financially viable, stacking a server full of these drives would completely overwhelm modern disk controllers, says the article.  Current controllers, optimized for magnetic storage, wouldn't be able to handle the throughput of a full solid-state array.

It's a big list of issues that confronts solid-state adoption in the enterprise market.  In fact, many of these arguments have been made for consumer-grade drives as well.  There's no question that solid-state technology offers tangible rewards in certain use cases, but expect to be waiting a few more years before the technology pushes their appeal into the mainstream.

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