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Monday, March 9, 2015 - 02:16
No solid case for solid state

With data volumes continuing to increase at an unprecedented rate, capacity has become a critical criterion when it comes to selecting data storage solutions. On the flip side, the need for increased speed and performance and ‘instant on’ methods has driven a growing trend towards flash-based storage systems.
Notes Kalvin Subbadu, Sales Manager Components, WD South Africa, “Industry is touting so-called Solid State Drives (SSDs) and flash-based storage as the way of the future. It is predicting the death of the hard drive as we know it. But is the future in flash and SDD, or is the humble hard drive here to stay?”
Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) utilise spinning media technology, which, although is prone to being damaged if dropped or moved around too much, is a tried and tested system over many decades and has seen significant enhancements in speed, reliability and storage capacity. For example, many models have ‘shock guard technology’.
On the other hand, SSDs as well as thumb drives and memory cards utilise flash, a newer technology which is faster and is not prone so much to failing if dropped or handled roughly. This is because  it does not require moving parts in the form of spinning platters. “But while flash-based storage is faster and better able to handle mobility, there remain several challenges with the new technology,” says Subbadu; “so the predicted death of the HDD is vastly premature.”
One of the biggest challenges currently is that HDDs are far more cost effective than SSDs. This is because, as an older technology, the cost of research and development as well as manufacturing around them has largely been absorbed.
SSDs are still in the infancy, which means that R&D costs are high and economies of scale with regard to major manufacturing runs have not yet been achieved. In addition, the available capacity of SSDs simply cannot cope with the storage volumes required today. While HDDs are available in capacities of up to 6TB (terabytes), the maximum capacity of an SSD is still only 1TB. The cost per GB of an SSD also remains unaffordable for the majority of users. “Additionally,” he adds, “SSDs still have reliability issues. Sure, they do not contain moving parts such as read/write arms or spinning platters, but there is something they call ‘the degeneration of cells’,” he explains.  “Cell degeneration is unpredictable, and causes permanent data loss. SSD failure is permanent, whereas data can often be recovered from a damaged HDD.”
While SSD is less prone to damage from dropping or shocks, the spinning platter continues to have the advantage, not only in terms of cost per gigabyte but also in terms of applications. The HDD is available in many platforms, such as the 3.5-inch architecture for desktop, 2.5-inch form factor for mobile, and 1.8-inch for automobiles and specialised applications.
The many applications for HDDs are evident in the fact that around 90% of the data stored around the world is still kept on a hard drive. Indeed, approximately 90% of data storage manufactured today is still HDD.
“SSD is currently a technology that fits niche applications only, such as smartphones, tablets, cameras and other applications that are not performance or storage intensive,” says Subbadu. “In addition, SSDs are also used in high-end servers, which run mission critical applications where speed is critical. However, when it comes to capacity data storage, the trusted, cost effective HDD is here to stay.”
Aside from the SSD, there are also a host of other new technologies being developed, such as Phase-Change Memory (PCM), Resistive Random-Access Memory (RRAM), and Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM), which may show promise with faster speed and durability. However, while HDD is a tried and tested technology, it has by no means become static, and a similar evolution is taking place from a hard drive perspective. Perpendicular recording and Single Magnetic Recording (SMR) have enabled increased performance and capacity, and the next upcoming technology centres around heat assisted magnetic recording, which could further improve this technology, leading to hard drives with even higher capacities and greater performance.
“So when it comes to choosing between HDD and SSD, users need to take into account specific requirements, preferences and budget. Each storage medium has its own pros and cons, and each is thus currently applicable in different devices and scenarios. This means that the two technologies will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future, and we can safely say that the HDD is here to stay.”

Price is indeed a serious issue. One may favour an SDD for the main drive (drive c:) essentially to hold the operating system. This will provide the maximum speed for programs loading, operating and so on. However, with limited space, the user will still have to rely on hard drives (say for d: and e:) where data, music and videos can be stored. As a guide a 1-terabyte hard drive currently costs about R1 000 in local South African stores; R1 300 for 2-terabytes, and R1 700 for three. If you spend R1 300 on a solid state drive you will only get 120GB (gigabytes): that’s only 16% capacity of an equivalent hard drive. A typical operating system with your main programs and a few other bits and pieces will use up about 55GB, so there isn’t much left on the faster drive. And most of your data will have to be parked on a second drive, so you will need a hard drive anyway.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:28.3 1st March, 2015
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