Advantages of Solid-State Drives (SSD) vs. Regular Hard Drives (HDD)
The speed at which your server operates can vary and that speed can affect your ability to work efficiently. Typically, the biggest performance limitation is storage. Some of the quickest server storage on the market right now is becoming more affordable and this could be big news for you.
Honestly speaking, enterprise-class solid-state drives (SSD) are not a new technology. In fact, it was invented sometime in the 1950s by IBM.
Prior to the 1970’s SSDs were mostly used in high performance, top secret, computer research labs. Fast forward and today, they are available to the small and medium-sized business market.
So, let’s talk about solid-state drives or SSDs, more specifically enterprise-class SSDs. What are they and how do they differ from what you may be using now?
Are Solid-State Drives (SSD) Faster Than Hard-Disk Drives (HDD)?
All modern computers have some form of semi-permanent storage device. It has the capacity to store your computer’s operating system, work documents, your kid’s homework, games, vacation pictures, and other files.
Most of us call this part of the computer the “hard drive” which is a shortened version of “hard disk drive” or HDD. Hard disks have several hard metal disks inside of them. These disks store data in circular magnetic tracks with a set of heads that move back and forth across the disks. Picture it like a CD. Music is burned on the CD, and a laser reads the information.
Solid-state drives are completely different from pretty much all other forms of digital mass storage. Their defining feature is that they don’t have any moving parts. Hence the name “solid-state”.
Without getting too technical, data is stored in a large array of “switches” that are either on or off, aka 1 or 0. Because SSDs don’t have any moving parts, they don’t have limitations based on the speed of the read heads (called seek time). This means that they can access any spot on the entire drive without delays caused by the moving parts.
This is a big deal! Storage latency has become the most significant performance bottleneck on modern devices. The SSD is a huge step toward eliminating it.
The Evolution of Solid-State Drives (SSD)
SSDs, as we know them today, first started showing up in the early-to-mid-90s. They were primarily used in military situations. SSDs worked because they could withstand rugged conditions and be quickly erased. These SSDs had a relatively small capacity compared to today’s standards and were also extremely expensive.
The technology has matured a whole lot in the last quarter century. Drives have gotten faster. They can store more information, they last longer, and most importantly, they have gotten more affordable.
Over the last few years, SSDs have become commonplace in desktop and laptop computers. It started with high-end gaming rigs and worked its way down to entry-level workstations.
Servers were the last "computers" to have SSDs become standard. Why? Because for a server we need a whole different class of storage.
What Is the Difference Between Enterprise and Consumer-Grade Storage SSD?
End users are hard on their computers. And that abuse gets aggregated on their companies’ servers.
Think about it. You have the entire user base hitting the same physical storage all day, every day. That kind of usage requires higher and more consistent performance but most importantly, better reliability. This is true regardless of whether you are using hard drives or solid-state drives.
Storage is the single most common physical component to fail. Hard drives fail because of physical wear on the motors, arms, or the disks themselves.
While SSDs don’t have any moving parts, each of the switches has a limited number of times it can be written to. That number determines the lifespan of each drive which is expressed as DWPD or drive writes per day.
Consumer class SSDs have a much lower DWPD than enterprise-class drives. The reason behind this is that, in theory, they have a much lighter workload. Enterprise-class SSDs (typically) have greater lifespans than their hard drive counterparts.
Enterprise-class SSDs are specifically designed to be used in servers. Using all SSDs in your server is known as an all- flash configuration. Whereas a combination of HDDs (hard disk drives) and SSDs provides a more cost-effective solution known as tiered storage.
Do Solid-State Drives (SSD) Fail?
Unfortunately, drives still fail. You will still need some form of redundancy for your shiny new SSDs to prevent data loss from drive failure.
Redundancy, in IT speak, means that you have the same data stored multiple times across multiple drives. This configuration is called RAID which stands for “redundant array of independent disks”.
You will lose some storage capacity by doing this but your server won't skip a beat even if one or more of your drives fails. As an added bonus, you can also get some additional speed out of your drives in certain RAID configurations.
Lastly, if you are considering running your servers in the Cloud, make sure to pay attention to the type of storage. There are several different tiers of HDDs and SSDs available.
Enterprise-class SSDs have come down in price considerably. Enough so, that small and mid-size businesses can now consider them for their next infrastructure refresh. Avoid buying consumer-class SSDs - spend the little bit of extra money now to an ensure your drives last longer.
SSDs ( enterprise-class) provide consistent performance that can translate directly into productivity. That alone makings them well worth the cost.
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