The mobile market was an ideal launch point for the advent of solid state drive (SSD) technology because every one of SSD’s strengths hit a point of need in mobility: they run cooler and faster than HDDs, they’re smaller and draw far less power.
Now that prices are coming down – 64GB drives used to be $600, now they are between $160 and $200 – and capacities are rising, where will the SSD find its next use? If you guessed desktop PCs, guess again.
Samsung, one of the leaders in the memory market, believes the next big use will be as replacement drives for 15,000 RPM high-speed drives used in enterprise servers. It believes SSDs are faster, draw less power and run cooler than the 15,000 RPM drives, which are so hot you’ll burn your hand if you touch one while it’s running. Samsung also believes that 15k drives have a higher failure rate than slower running hard drives.
Just this week, startup Violin Memory announced enterprise storage products based on SSD technology.
“These datacenters are just carbon dioxide pumps,” Stephen Weinger, marketing manager for NAND flash at Samsung, told InternetNews.com. “Their power emissions are huge. Not only power to run but power needed to cool the room because the drives run so hot. There’s just racks of drives that could go down in size.”
Drives have to be a certain square size because they have a rotating platter in them. An SSD is just a circuit board of chips, so it need not be the 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch form factor of a standard drive.
“This is where you can take advantage of the speed of SSDs,” said Weinger. “A 15,000 RPM hard drive’s IOPS is in that 300 range. An SSD is going to start at 2,000 and it’s going to work its way up. So it’s basically a replacement for 15k hard drives.”
An IOPS is I/O per second, a measure of hard drive read performance. SSD drive makers routinely claim IOPS in the 10,000 range. On the very ambitious side of things is Texas Memory Systems, which makes a series of rack mounted SSD storage systems up to 4U in size that can scale into the terabytes of memory, with IOPS (I/O per second) of over 100,000.
SSDs pros and cons
But Krishna Chander, senior analyst with iSupply, begs to differ on some of these claims. For starters, he has never heard of high failure rates for 15,000 RPM drives; instead he says they have the same failure rates as other drives.
The real shortcoming for SSDs is their write performance. Major datacenter OEMs tell Chander SSD can’t match the 15k drives. “It’s not prime time yet for fast writes at this point,” he told InternetNews.com. “The OEMs are saying they got a ways to go. But they are certainly considering them and certainly deploying them in high-read applications.”
Next Page: Timetable for enterprise adoption
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Chander said there are certain instances where SSDs make ideal replacements for 15k drives. In some applications, only 10 percent of the hard drive is filled, with all of the data at the outer edge of the platter for maximum speed, and the drive is just used for fast reads. This, he said, is where SSDs make an ideal hard disk replacement. After that, though, SSD technology has to prove itself.
Weinger said tests have found the mean time before failure for SSDs to be about almost one million hours, but Chander said lab tests aren’t enough, OEMs want real world usage experience.
“The industry wants to go through a field experience with a newer device before it accepts it. They want to put it in the field and test it and check it out and have the technician say it works,” Chander said.
Timetable for enterprise adoption
“Definitely SSDs will penetrate the enterprise, but it will be slow and at a limited level, and only with some apps. As they get adopted and reliability gets tested in the field, acceptance will increase,” he added.
As for the desktop market, both Weinger and Chander said the desktop market is not a priority right now. Desktop PCs are falling out of favor, with laptops outselling desktops this year, and those who have a desktop want more capacity, something SSD doesn’t offer. “Ultimately, desktop users want high capacity,” said Weinger.
“The consumer market will probably be the last to get SSDs,” added Chander.