SSDs Break New Ground

Arthur Cole

Manufacturers continue to ratchet up the performance and capacities of solid-state disk drives (SSDs) for both the notebook and server markets, even while questions remain as to whether they are reliable enough for critical data applications.


The latest SSD comes from South Korea's Mtron Co., which is aiming the PRO 7500 directly at enterprise server and storage environments. The device supports the SATA II interface to garner maximum read/write speeds of 130/120 MBps. That puts it at the top of the heap in terms of performance. Capacities range from 32 GB to 128 GB in both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch form factors.


That SSDs are on the rise is beyond question. IDC reports that SSD revenues are seeing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 70 percent, putting the industry on pace to hit $5.4 billion by 2011. Much of the growth is due to increased demand among server vendors, some of whom are loading up their top models with 1 TB of SSD storage.


The economics are also looking better for SSDs. Prices are coming down even as performance -- which already has outclassed magnetic disks in just about every category -- is going up.


Still, it would be unwise to ignore the downside, summed up neatly here by consultant Henry Newman. Topping the list is write endurance, which currently limits the rewrite capability of flash cells to about 100,000, after which rising errors can quickly lead to failure. Techniques like wear leveling can alleviate the problem, but not for long. It's also worth noting that the flash industry has no common monitoring standard like the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) available for magnetic disks.


Still, it seems certain that SSDs are likely to invade an enterprise near you sooner rather than later. The grapevine was buzzing last week over a report in Taiwan's DigiTimes that Google was about to begin converting its server drives to SSDs supplied by Intel and Marvel in a bid to lower energy costs. While the report was questioned by some, it did raise the possibility of a run on 16 Gb and 32 Gb NAND flash chips that could lead to a shortage.

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