While the current mindset is that solid state drives (SSDs) are extremely expensive, sales are continuing to climb. This has more to do with the all-round attraction of the product and the real advantages of SSD than with the substitution effect caused by the shortage of hard disk drives.
HDD is cheaper overall, cheaper per gigabyte and remains the incumbent default technology for storage. HDD can also be rewritten an unlimited number of times, while SSD has a write endurance limit of about 10,000 times.
But manufacturers are using firmware with wear levelling algorithms to avoid this issue, and hard drives are disadvantaged by their sequential, random performance and vulnerability to noise, heat, vibration, dust and shock.
As SSD technology improves, business users will discover that using SSD for some applications may work out cheaper.
With performance, you often need to take the manufacturers' claims with a pinch of salt. Performance is often quoted in input/output operations per second (IOPS), and measuring this is incredibly complex. The variables selected by the tester will dramatically affect the result.
However, a Seagate 7200rpm hard disk drive typically has an IOPS of about 100, whereas the Patriot Wildfire UDMA600 SSD boasts 80,000 IOPS. The latest products from OCZ are advertised as capable of 1.2 million IOPS.
The conclusion here is that storage is no longer slow.
Fast SSD means users will experience almost instant boot times. The SSD is robust – having no moving parts – quiet, small and light compared with the traditional 2.5in HDD. This will potentially drive sales of ultrabooks, such as the Asus UX21.
Consumer PCs will migrate slowly from HDD, simply because many common entertainment apps don't need the performance, but do need high capacity. But eventually all storage will be solid state; mainly because hard drives won't be able to deliver the application performance or the densities needed in future systems.
I predict that what we'll see from business users this year is an increased focus on matching the SSD type with the intended application.
Businesses will be able to boost performance tenfold for some applications, increase reliability and reduce costs overall by adopting SSD.
Tiering SSD with DRAM, SLC Flash, and eMLC Flash will ultimately deliver bigger wins than tiering different kinds of hard drives.
And as SSD improves, vendors will get more involved in reviewing SSD products to include them in their own products. Top SSD makers have their own proprietary SSD controller IP and architecture, even if they also use controllers from other companies. This means SSD IP is still an important factor in this emerging market.
It all goes hand in hand with the trend towards greater mobility and thinner, lighter devices with faster boot times and more power. Many ultrabooks coming out this year will have both a small amount of NAND flash (8GB or 16GB) for fast booting and application loads, and hard drives for more storage.
In many cases, the flash memory will be part of the system board, but we may also see hybrid drives that combine the flash with a controller that makes it all invisible to the user.
Both SSD drives and systems are now cheaper as well, making them viable for certain applications. So I think it's going to be an interesting year ahead for SSD.
Dave Stevinson is sales director at VIP Computers
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