Horse Sense #126

Solid State Drives (SSDs) Become Mainstream

While phones, cameras, USB sticks, networking equipment, and PC system BIOSes have been using solid state storage technology for years, this memory did not have the speed, low cost, capacity, or reliability needed to replace hard disk drives (HDDs). Times have changed. While the largest HDDs now cost 3-5 cents a gigabyte (GB), the largest desktop grade Solid State Drives (SSDs) cost 30-50 cents/GB. Most people do not need that much storage. The smallest HDDs and SDDs on the market sell for nearly identical prices. Though low end SSDs will be of a much smaller capacity than low end HDDs, if you will never use the extra capacity of the HDDs, the SSDs will be much better buys because of their "instant on" capability and much faster speeds. You will spend a lot less time waiting for your storage to supply information your processor needs, improving your productivity markedly. According to a study conducted by J. Gold Associates for Intel, the Return On Investment (ROI) on SSDs ranges from 98 percent over three years to 246 percent over five years versus HDDs.

Why SSDs have a high ROI:

(1) SSDs are reliable. Since there are no moving parts, there is zero risk of mechanical failure, and much less risk of shock, vibration, heat, or cold damaging your data compared to HDDs. SSDs have a mean time between failure (a manufacturer estimate of when a device might fail based on standardized tests) of 1.2-2 million or more hours versus 0.3-0.75 million hours HDDs. Enterprise SSDs often have features normal hard drives cannot match, like an on disk power backup that allows them to complete writing data when the power fails. SSDs also tend to run cooler, produce zero vibration, and can withstand higher temperatures than HDDs.

SSDs have a limited write capacity, but it is better than HDDs! Seagate just released a 6TB server HDD rated for 550 terabytes (TB) of writes annually or an average of 1.5TB/day or 1/4 of the disk per day. SSDs for servers are designed to write the entire capacity of the disk tens to hundreds of times a day.

(2) SSDs are much faster. Responding to requests spread all over a hard disk takes a lot of time positioning the recording head. SSDs do not have to physically move anything. They can perform input/output (read/write) operations hundreds to many thousands of times faster than HDDs. Once the SSD finds the information, it can also deliver it many times faster than HDDs. You need an SSD to take advantage of the power of modern processors.

(3) SSDs tend to consume far less power and generate less heat than HDDs, so they are better suited to provide storage for portable, battery, or solar powered equipment. Low power draw and heat production also means lower energy costs. SSDs tolerate the heat, cold, shock, altitude, and vibration of harsh environments better than HDDs.

(4) SSDs require less maintenance effort. HDD read and write performance depends on where the information is written on the platter and how fast the read head can get to it and read the information. HDDs should be regularly defragmented to improve performance. In high performance environments, it is necessary to gang many HDDs together in RAID arrays and concentrate data on the outer edges of the drive where the read and write speed is quicker to speed up data access. SSDs can access any area with equal speed and much more quickly than HDDs, so they do not need to be defragmented, do not need to sacrifice capacity for speed, and do not require RAID to increase read or write speed.

Unlike HDDs, full drive encryption in SSDs is common. Rather than taking the difficult, time consuming, wasteful, and expensive steps of overwriting the entire drive or physically destroying the drive as you would with a normal HDD, you merely need to delete the decryption key and no one can read the data. If you want to, you can then reuse the drive easily without fear of valuable information leaking out. Because SSDs are so fast, maintenance operations like disk formats, system loads, software upgrades, etcetera take much less time.

(5) SSDs make no noise. Many thin and light devices using SSDs can eliminate fans as well since SSDs generate less heat and tolerate heat and cold well.

No Technology is Perfect

No technology is perfect, however. Data recovery is much harder to perform on a SSD. SSDs are still prone to system glitches overwriting the wrong area or users deleting files they should not. SSDs are more likely to employ full drive encryption in hardware. Forget the decryption key and your data is gone. SSDs have to clear memory before they can write to it and wear leveling and performance enhancements like erasing areas before they are needed (with a TRIM command) make data written to SSDs much harder to recover. Lastly, data recovery providers are just beginning to understand how to deal with SSDs.

The moral? Have a good backup. Of course, everyone knows that, so why do data recovery services do so much business? Most likely, people were not doing the backups. Or, they thought they were doing them, but no one ever checked to see if they were good and they were not. Or the backup that was being done actually did not back up the data that they now need. Or ....

Are you wasting productivity waiting for something to happen? When was the last time you made sure you could restore easily and correctly? When was the last time checked to see if your storage and backup made good sense? If these questions make you nervous, it is time to call us. At worst, you find a problem you can work around. At best, you get reassurance you are doing well!

©2015 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse