June 12, 2012

SSD: The Solid State Dilemma

Robert Gelber

The increasing adoption of big data and cloud solutions has created a storage dilemma. System administrators have been tasked with delivering increased capacity and performance. They would also like the equipment to fit within a reasonable cost benefit analysis. Unfortunately, current hard disk drive and solid-state drive technologies only offer cheap capacity or high-priced performance.

At this year’s Cloud Expo, storage vendors OCZ, Whiptail, Amplidata, Coraid and others are pitching SSD-based offerings to potential enterprise and cloud service customers. The technology certainly boasts a long list of advantages compared to its platter-based predecessor. SSDs are smaller, lighter, contain no moving parts, use less energy, have less latency and much provide much higher IOPS than traditional hard drives

The following video demonstrates the boot time of a SSD compared to a HDD on the same system. Performance wise, the SSD is the clear winner, booting up in 25 seconds. The HDD took nearly twice as long, booting in 45 seconds.


These performance advantages steered Ohio’s Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) to choose an SSD based SAN appliance when they switched to a virtualized desktop model. The 1,500 user environment was going to require anywhere from 20-50 IOPS per user. Their current SAN was unable to handle this load, which led them to Whiptail. After switching to a 2U SSD appliance, the DODD reduced SAN power consumption by 95 percent and had 250,000 write IOPS at their disposal.

For all the advantages SSDs exhibit, their Achilles heel exists in the form of high prices for reduced capacity. A typical 2 terabyte SATA hard drive can sell for $109, which comes out to roughly 18.78 GB per dollar. SSDs on the other hand typically struggle to provide 1GB per dollar spent and lag behind HDDs in capacity.

The difference between both technologies can prove difficult when deciding to upgrade storage systems. SSDs cater to environments where low latency and high IOPS are required. This includes high-speed financial outfits and systems that support high concurrent access. HDDs can be used in cases where low-cost and capacity is a priority, entertainment industry users may fall into this category with the massive amount of data generated by HD, 2k and 4k video.   

Given the current options, it makes sense that neither technology has become an undisputed champion. The solid-state vs. hard disk battle will likely continue until either one achieves the capacity, price and performance sweet spot, or a new technology like Phase Change Memory (PCM) steals the show.

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