The State of Solid State

In two previous articles, I discussed appliance server storage in terms of cost-effective, high-performance solutions and high-capacity, low-cost solutions. This installment will address the newest trend in enterprise-class storage, flash-based, Solid-State drives (SSDs). Introduced to the mass market just a few years ago, those expecting enterprise-class reliability and consistency have been slow to adopt SSDs in higher volume solutions. Today the cost of flash-based storage is considerably higher than traditional spinning-platter hard drives, especially in terms of cost per GB.

When I first encountered Solid State drives, I initially thought of my dad when he proudly brought home our first Solid State television, or my brother who eagerly built a non-Solid State amplifier for his stereo. They were talking about something totally different from a Solid State hard drive, but the basic concept is similar – SSDs have no moving parts, no mechanically fragile components, and are built upon silicon-based semiconductor technology.

It appears the era of SSDs is nearing for the Enterprise server space, and here at Dell we are seeing more interest from our OEM customers wanting to take advantage of the technology in their appliances and other platforms. Clear advantages of SSDs over traditional disks include:

  • Higher performance
  • Lower power consumption
  • Cooler operation
  • Higher reliability during useful life
  • Greater resilience in adverse environments (shock, vibe, temp, humidity, etc)

These benefits can be critical for certain applications, such as high performance solutions or rugged environments. However, they come with costs, including:

  • Higher cost per Gigabyte of capacity (2x to 10x greater cost)
  • Lower capacity per drive
  • Fixed and limited life expectancy for drive
  • Performance can degrade over time

As such, one must be careful to balance the pros and cons when considering a SSD in an appliance solution.

When performance is the top requirement, or when reliability over a 3-to-5-year period is critical, SSDs can provide a great benefit. Over time, we expect to see less expensive and higher capacity SSDs reaching our markets, and when they are ready for mass adoption we will offer them. Likewise, we expect the reliability and consistency of performance to improve as well.

I am starting to see a maturing of the SSD product category as specialized products are released that cater to non-general applications, such as ultra-high performance SSDs where cost is no object; mainstream highly-reliable drives where reliability is more critical than performance, and even boot-only drives with lower capacities and more attractive price points. Just like the spinning hard drive market where there are several different product lines tailored to fit the needs of users, the SSD market is doing the same thing.

This is an exciting time for technologists like me as there are amazing new capabilities being offered to the solution developer and released on a regular basis. From virtualization to high-performance storage to highly-parallelized applications, all at dwindling costs per performance levels, we are able to develop and release more ideal solutions for our customers to take advantage of and run their businesses more efficiently and effectively.

What technologies are exciting to you and what products are you developing?

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About the Author: Franklin Flint