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Could SSDs Revolutionize Computing?

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Solid State Disc drives are the newest innovation in the data storage world, replacing the Hard Disc Drive after a massive 60 years of usage. SSDs work on principles broadly similar to those used by USB drives; also known as flash drives or thumb drives, but SSDs are much larger and more sophisticated than a simple USB stick.

The main technical advantage of the SSD drive is that it has no moving parts and therefore is much less likely to suffer from mechanical wear and tear. As a result SSDs are silent to operate, without the clicks and whirs commonly associated with classic hard drives. The way SSDs store data is very different to a hard drive too, in that information is stored in blocks on microchips, rather than in fragments on spinning platters using magnetism. Hard drives use a mechanical arm to read and write the information from the spinning disc by means of a read/ write head. This generates a small amount of heat, makes some noise and can take a discernible length of time. By comparison a SSD ‘finds’ the information almost instantaneously, generates practically no heat and operates silently as it has no moving parts.

Instead of a mechanical arm an SSD has a ‘controller’ and it is the quality of this controller that sets the operating speed and efficiency of the SSD as a whole. Tests on booting up devices, opening programs and various other regularly performed actions have shown that SSDs are up to 70% faster than hard drives at performing these tasks.

The data storage industry has used a standard connection for both SSD and hard drive fittings. They both use the SATA connection and therefore it is a relatively simple task to switch between the two options. Size-wise, they are very similar too; SSDs and hard drives alike come in 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch sizes. SSDs also come in smaller sizes, like the 1.8 inch model and those use a micro SATA or mSATA connection.

These smaller SSDs have revolutionised technology, enabling the inundation of computerised mobile devices that have flooded the world of late. Handheld games consoles, tablet computers, smartphones, laptops and music storage devices such as the iPod have completely transformed the way we work, talk, and play, and it is all thanks to SSDs. Traditional hard drives are extremely sensitive to vibration and were therefore not suitable for ‘on-the-go’ devices like smartphones and other mobile media devices; not only would the device not work fluidly it could end up suffering damage to both the mechanism and data stored upon it. While the very first iPod that Apple produced did have a moving disc, it would spin for a very short time, retrieving as much of the requested information as it could, for example a song, into its RAM and then stop the disc from spinning and return it to a safe dormant position until it needed to retrieve some more information. This system was unwieldy and did not last past the time NAND flash memory came to the notice of data storage engineers. NAND memory or flash memory refers to a system of information storage that does not rely on the constant presence of a power source. The power supply can be removed, then re-connected and the information will be retained in the device. It is this type of memory that has made SSD technology so successful.

From the minute to a somewhat larger application; SSD servers are currently rolling out amongst web hosting service providers and they are being met with general approval on all levels. In cyberspace speed of operation is king and SSDs offer a very much faster performance than traditional hard drives. The data is also more durable as SSDs are reputed to be able to store data safely for up to 200 years. While SSD servers do cost more, service providers are more comfortable asking higher prices for guaranteed faster performance, knowing that businesses will happily pay more for the vastly improved product.

One somewhat negative aspect about SSDs is the fact that they are considerably more expensive to produce than hard drives. To store 1GB of information on a hard drive will cost approximately US$0.10, while the same amount of data on an SSD will cost about US$1.75. However SSDs are steadily reducing in price as the technology becomes more widely available and in the future may close the gap to almost nothing.

The current supply of hard drives world-wide has been affected by severe flooding in Thailand, and this is helping to boost the change towards SSDs. As the Thai crisis is not expected to be resolved until approximately 2014, it may well be the end of the hard drive as we know it.

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This article was written on behalf of ElasticHosts – a cloud server company who recently opened up their SSD hosting to all it’s customers.

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