Solid state disc drives can potentially give legacy desktop PCs a new lease of life.
Solid state discs (SSDs) are set to become the preferred way to achieve high performance and high availability storage in the datacentre and, increasingly, on the desktop.
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Kingston Technology, a company which made a name for itself selling memory upgrades for PCs is fast becoming a storage company, now that SSD is gaining in popularity. In 2009 its revenue was $4.1bn, of which $1.35bn came from flash memory (as used in digital cameras, iPhones, USB memory sticks, etc). Darwin Chen, vice-president, flash and SSD at Kingston Technology, believes SSD will grow to a $1bn business within Kingston.
In the datacentre, optimising the speed of access to file storage is essential to give users seamless data access and avoid them having to store data locally. Chen says indexing files on a single SSD drive is equivalent to the performance of running the index on 100 15,000rpm drives. He says, "Moving forward, SSD drives have potential to improve a CIO's strategic plan."
Datacentre SSD offers high performance, reliability and lower heat and energy consumption compared to hard disc drives.
On the desktop, SSDs are set to have the biggest impact. An SSD drive is able to inject new life into an old PC, allowing the IT department to run more demanding software, such as file encryption SSDs.
The SSD is a direct replacement for existing SATA 2 drives, which means it is a direct replacement for hard discs with the SATA interface in desktop PCs and notebooks. One of Kingston's customers has updated 2,000 of its 20,000-strong PC estate with SSD. "Boot time dropped from seven minutes to one minute. based on a standard client," according to Chen.
Chen says SSD can speed up a typical Windows client installation from three hours or more down to one hour. "Typically, SSD is 40% faster than a hard disc drive," he says.
The price of the technology is falling. He says, "$250 will buy you a 128Gbyte disc." This may not seem like much, given a modern desktop PC will often ship with at least 1Tbyte of hard disc storage. But as Chen points out, in the corporate world, all client data can reside on a file server, which means desktops only require about 30Gbytes of local storage for Windows and applications.
Kingston sells such an SSD boot drive to speed up Windows.
Case study: Intelligent Energy
Intelligent Energy, which provides hydrogen fuel cell technology, is an early adopter of Kingston's SSDNow, SSD storage technology. The company needs to run 10,000 hours of non-stop tests on fuel cells. The testing requires 50 rack-mounted Windows-based desktop PCs equipped with 12 PCI slots each to hold National Instruments data acquisition PCI cards.
If PCs are run continuously they become increasingly unreliable. Stuart Gale, global services head IT Intelligent Energy, says "After 5,000 hours we were getting many non responsive applications, hard disc failures." He tried different hard disc manufactures, motherboard Raid and Raid controllers to improve disc reliability. But these all had drawbacks. "The cost of disc Raid is quite high. It would also require an extra PC slot," which would leave one less slot for a data acquisition card, he says.
"SSD does not require additional hardware. We implemented SSD a year ago. Applications and machines are very responsive after 5,000 hours' [non-stop] use. We have not seen any failure, and there is less maintenance," says Gale.
The company has 50 test machines, of which 30 are using SSDs. The others will be migrated as and when there is time to do so during the testing schedule. The overall performance of testing has also improved. "Data collection was starting to slow down on hard disc systems. We don't see this any more with SSD. The computer can handle the data coming in, without the need to buffer data," says Gale.