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The Solid Future Of Solid-State Disks

When prices drop, there will be no stopping SSDs in replacing platters.


the promise
The replacement for platter-based disk drives may be as close as your pocket MP3 player. SSD, or solid-state disk, systems are changing the way enterprises views storage for workstations and data centers. They're less expensive to run and cool and are more dependable.
the players
Lined up right now to satisfy the not-yet-overwhelming demand for SSD devices are Adtron Corp., Altec ComputerSysteme //cq//, Curtis, Samsung, SanDisk, STEC Corp. and Super Talent Technology. Seagate and Western Digital currently offer hybrid drives but have yet to commit to an all-SSD lineup. Microsoft is partnering with Seagate and others to push hybrid drives for "instant-on" fastboot capabilities in Windows Vista.
the prospects
Although prices have yet to hit the critical mass needed to spark a market revolution, SSDs are peeking over the horizon. Near-instantaneous access times for critical databases, instant-on states for workstations and MTBFs measured in decades mean that when solid-state disks break through the price barrier, platter-based drives will become relics.

Storage vendors have dragged some hefty baggage into the 21st century. The basic IDE interface, for example, is more than 20 years old; SCSI traces its roots back to Shugart Associates' SASI interface, introduced in 1979. Perhaps most onerous is the medium itself: A rotating magnetized disk that can cause major headaches under the best data center conditions. Failure of a single drive—or more catastrophically, an entire array—and it's twilight time for your data.

Fortunately, that's changing.

SSDs, or solid-state drives, sometimes referred to as flash drives, use no moving parts. They consist of large quantities of RAM attached to an appropriate interface. Once packaged, the drives are no different from their spinning platter-based brethren as far as interface controllers on host systems or, for example, large NAS arrays, are concerned. The key difference is the lack of moving parts. Instead of a motor and series of heads, controllers manage data flow from each bank of RAM, passing information to the attached drive controller, which in turn passes it to the host system. Data access is near instantaneous.

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