Government Technology
By Ulf Wolf: Citizen engagement and responsibility in the digital age.

Why SSDs Make So Much Sense

June 18, 2012 By

Over the span of my last two laptops, both Dell Latitudes, I’ve used solid-state drives (SSD).

First with a 32 Gigabyte SSD, which, at the time, was quite enough to run Windows Vista, Microsoft Office, and some other applications. As Windows updates began accumulating, however, more and more of the 32 Gigs were chipped away at and after a couple of years my SSD space grew more and more valuable.

That story does end happily, though. I managed to frugalize (not a real word, but a good one anyway) my SSD and survive until I bought my current laptop, the E4310 with a 256 Gigabyte SSD, most of which is still available for use two years later.

To me the SSD issue was a no-brainer. It is a known fact that all hard drives will fail eventually. It is only a matter of time. A matter of a lot of time, yes—say ten or twenty years—but still a matter of time. And if you’re unlucky (and I’ve known a few unlucky people) that time is counted in days or months, rather than years.

The primary reason all hard disks will eventually crash is that it consists of moving parts, and rapidly moving parts at that. Moving parts wear out, micrometer precisions slip and slide and eventually a small white flag sticks out of the drive as it surrenders to the inevitable.

Not so with SSDs. There are no moving parts; it’s just an array of flash memory. If it survives the first week or so (it would only fail through manufacturing errors, which would become evident quite soon), it will likely perform just fine for years and years.

And that, for me, is the no-brainer. I don’t want to lose my data. I don’t want to risk losing my data. And with the SSD it stays just where it is. I’m more likely to lose my laptop than have data lost from the SSD.

Yes, I still do backups to external drives, and some even to the cloud, but then I’m perhaps over-protective of my writings, songs, etc. That said, over the last six years, I have never lost any SSD data.

The downside with SSD, as with all evolving technology, has been price. The ratio between conventional hard drives and SSD is probably in the region of 1:5, but this is a ratio which I predict will inch its way toward 1:1 over the next few years, at which point the choice will morph from a no-brainer to the only choice: SSD.

In fact, judging by a recent Wired Online article, this ratio will hit 1:1 sooner rather than later.

According to this article (which I consider well worth reading, and highly recommend) the SSDs are now beginning to show up in the larger cloud centers, especially with the servers used by Dropbox. Clearly, says the article, “the file-sharing upstart is proud of its data center gear. But at the same time, it doesn’t think this hardware is all that different from what the rest of the world is using. And that’s about right."

Or as Artur Bergman, the founder of Fastly, a San Francisco outfit that uses SSDs exclusively in providing a service that helps other businesses speed their delivery of pages over the net, “Though some people still have a hard time grasping it, these drives save a tremendous amount of money. They look more expensive, but when you need higher performance, you need way less of them.”

The article goes on to inform us that such names as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Wikia are also using solid-state storage in their data centers.


Well, according to recent talk by Berman, “One SSD can handle about 40,000 reads or writes a second, whereas the average hardware gives you about 180. And it runs at about one watt as opposed to 15 watts, which means you spend far less on power.

“Do the math on how much you can save.”

According to the article, while Bergman worked at Wikia as its director of engineering, he first installed SSDs on the Wikia’s caching servers (used to provide quick access to data that repeatedly accessed by web surfers). He then deployed them in the company’s database servers, where data stored more permanently. This provided so much additional speed, Bergman reports, that the caching servers were no longer needed.

Talk about resting one’s case.

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