POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
Industry experts have predicted for some time now that data storage requirements will continue to increase exponentially. Innovations in storage technology, however, have been few and far between. This is finally beginning to change with the maturation of solid state drives, abbreviated as SSD.
Everyone knows that processor improvements have made a prophet out of Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel. Moore famously predicted that the computing power of a microprocessor will double every couple of years. Often referred to as "the only moving part" in computers, disks have typically been mechanically based. As such, improvements in disk performance are harder to achieve. Further, being mechanically based also makes the traditional disk prone to failure. For the most part, mechanical disks, in and of themselves, have not shown improvements in several years, although costs have gone down.
SSDs, however, are not mechanically based. Instead, they are built out of components very similar to what we've used for RAM over the years, namely, silicon-based chips. As such, they are much faster than mechanical drives and performance can theoretically increase similarly to Moore's Law.
Since this sounds so simple, why hasn't it been done before? One word: cost. SSD technology has finally matured to the point where the SSDs can be manufactured, and thus sold, at costs approaching those of mechanical disks. In fact, high-end laptops have been equipped with SSDs for close to a year now. As the cost of the drives goes down, we expect to see SSDs become the standard for industry.
Who makes SSDs? The big boys of the hard-drive industry, such as Western Digital and Seagate, of course are in the game. Other players include companies known more for chips than drives, such as Intel and SanDisk. Smaller companies, such as STEC Inc. and Fusion IO are still involved, and some say just waiting to be bought out.
The manufacturers of SSD sell relatively little of their product to end users. For PCs and smaller computers, the big retailers such as Dell and HP simply cut deals with SSD suppliers to include the drives in their machines. The bigger market is in so-called enterprise storage, where behemoths such as EMC and IBM dominate. These bigger players sell solutions that include tens if not hundreds of hard drives to larger businesses and government organizations.
Due to the lack of advances with hard-drive technology, improvements for years were based, quite frankly, on workarounds, including using SSD-like technology to act as a buffer between mechanical hard drives and processors. Other workarounds include using multiple drives in different configurations to increase the speed at which data can be read and written to and from mechanical hard drives. (Such configurations also serve to improve the reliability of the storage platform.)
These methods became so popular that they are no longer "workarounds," they are "best practices." Such practices can continue to be used with SSD technology to effectively boost their performance.