Flash storage made its big debut several years ago, but it’s only recently started making regular appearances in laptops, desktops and mobile devices. Flash drives boast major performance enhancements unfamiliar to their hard disk counterparts. Recently, SSDs have begun going beyond basic computing devices and popping up in data centers and large-scale data management systems all over the globe. The biggest questions related to the SSD revolution have to do with price, overall performance and lifecycle.
What is flash storage?
The idea behind flash storage is simple. Data is stored on a silicon chip rather than on rotating, magnetic disks. Flash storage, also called solid state storage, has been around for decades. It’s been used in computers since the invention of the integrated circuit and provided the storage for early video game consoles like the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System. Hard drives, however, have long been the storage medium of import in business and home computing, because they’re inexpensive to produce and can hold massive amounts of data. A few things have changed, though, that help give flash storage a viable chance to beat out hard disk drives in both the corporate and domestic worlds.
Pros of flash storage
The main benefit to using a flash storage device is speed. Read-write speeds can reach several gigabytes per second, something unimaginable with hard drives. Additionally, these same devices rely on silicon chips that are more stable than hard disks and consume far less power. SSDs can handle more wear and tear than hard drives, because they have no moving parts. A spinning disk drive will last through about five years of moderate usage. Many solid state storage arrays can last just as long, if not longer, while giving superior performance.
Cons of flash storage
Despite the many benefits of flash, there are still things that make consumers and IT admins wary of relying on the tech for all their storage needs. The biggest downside to flash storage technology is cost. Historically, solid state devices have cost up to 10 times as much as hard drives per gigabyte. This has made it nearly impossible for smaller organizations to adopt SSD technology. You also have a more limited selection. Hard disk drives are available from several major brand names, but far fewer companies offer flash drives. Individual drives also lack the immense storage capacity of hard drives, though that’s not much of a concern with enterprise flash storage, since dozens of drives are built into one array.
Reality check: Faster is better
Even when you look at the cons, it’s difficult to justify hard disk over flash storage. The good news is that key players in the data management industry have seen a growing need for a better, more productive data center. New, forward-thinking SSD manufacturers are building computing resources to help even small- to mid-sized companies realistically implement flash storage technology without breaking the bank. Though price and capacity remain a sticking point for home use, solid state arrays offer comparable capacity and pricing, while maintaining superior performance, for enterprise storage.