SSDs, Coming Soon to a Server Near You

by Kenneth Hess

Cover Your Assets: SSDs aren't just for netbooks and notebooks anymore. They're headed to your data center.

Solid state drives (SSDs), as compared to their spinning counterparts, have no moving parts, require less power, have a smaller footprint, produce a fraction of the heat, enjoy a longer life span and perform better in some systems. That first sentence should have sold you — what else do you need to know? Oh, right, the downside. You're right; it's the price tag. They currently range in price from two or three times for smaller drives (about 30GB) to more than 10 times that for drives in the 120GB to 250GB range. Don't let the prices scare you away from SSDs. As the technology matures, the prices will drop significantly.

When deciding on your next move in storage technology, keep in mind you don't need a huge amount of disk space to install an operating system. Hypervisors use about 4GB and full installations of Windows Server 2008 require that same 4GB. A $90 32GB SSD provides more than enough space for the operating system and any future patches, service packs and related operating system support files.

Green Technology

At first glance at the prices, you might think that the "green" in this technology is the price, but it isn't. It's the technology behind the high price. Lowering the amount of heat produced by hundreds of disk drives adds up fast. Data centers will run at near-normal office temperatures instead of the current frosty temperatures around which they now hover. Requiring less power from your utility company proves that this new technology saves money and not just in theory (See the table below).

SATA vs. SSD (Watts)
Drive TypeIdleSeekStart Up

The table shows the average power consumption from a variety of different SATA and SCSI drives. The SSDs are Intel High Performance SSDs.


If you've heard of SSDs, you've also heard about their increased performance over conventional disk technology. Since SSDs don't have moving parts, their seek times return numbers in the range of 75 microseconds to one millisecond. Standard disk technology runs in the 4 to 5 millisecond range.

Having said that, SSDs outperform their conventional counterparts in seek times, don't install write intensive applications on them. Leave the operating system and perhaps a read intensive application on a local disk but for heavy writes, use the same technologies that you do now: storage area network (SAN) or high-performance network attached storage (NAS).

Life Expectancy

With lower power consumption, less heat to dissipate and no moving parts, comes a longer life expectancy for disk drives and other system components. Estimates for SSD data integrity exceed 10 years. Some manufacturers say the data on them could last as long as 100 years. I'm impressed enough with 10 to 15 years. SSDs will lengthen the life expectancy of your entire server infrastructure. Think about it. What causes you to upgrade your hardware other than expired lease terms? Failures. The reasonable life expectancy of standard technology is three years. You're really pushing it beyond that. What is the most failure prone component in your systems? Disk drives. Power supplies run a close second. If power consumption and heat from disks decreases, how much longer will those power supplies last? You guessed it, longer.

How would your IT budget handle technology refreshes that exceed five years? Seven years? Longer?

The case for SSD adoption is strong, indeed. SSDs transcend the hype that's often associated with new technologies. Independent case studies show that SSDs create a new storage playing field and manufacturers suggest that conventional spinning disk technology is near its final breath. I predict within five years, SSDs will populate more than 90 percent of all server systems and NAS. By that time, technology will have caught up to the point where any application will feel right at home on SSDs-even the write-intensive ones.

Have you adopted SSDs in your server systems yet? Write back and let us know.

*No Data for startup power consumption for SSDs.

Standard Hard Disks: HDD Diet: Power Consumption and Heat Dissipation
SSDs: Intel Solid State Drives (Comparison Chart)

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Nov 25th 2009
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