Thin is definitely in when it come to laptops, with breakthrough products like the MacBook Air (and the equally impressive Lenovo X300) pushing the technological envelope of portable computing. A host of advances in low-power CPUs, LCD displays, and improved battery technology over the last few years have contributed to a revolution in the mobile work environment. Smart phones have also regularly added capability, making time spent chained to a desktop PC in an office cubicle a less common event.
One of the key new technologies driving this revolution is the advent of solid state drives, or SSDs. Unlike traditional mechanical hard disk drives that use spinning platters and articulated armatures with read/write heads that spin across those platters, SSDs have no moving parts. SSDs use a special type of flash memory that offers impressive storage capacity in tiny form factors.
Some of the benefits of SSDs are their lightning fast read times. While the ultimate speed of a traditional hard drive is constrained by the physical bits that make up the read/write head and the spinning drive platters, SSDs don't have that mechanical handicap. Much like accessing memory, reading and writing to and from an SSD drive happens at speeds that physical hard drives simply can't match.
While flashy new ultrathin laptops are perfect candidates for SSD storage, one of the more promising markets for the technology involves the vast, decidely non-portable world of enterprise database systems.
If you're running a massive database supporting millions of transactions, part of the database performance is limited by the ability of physical storage to access and retrieve information. SSDs can drastically minimize the time spent for read and write access, so -- when you factor in huge numbers of transactions -- a few fractions of a second here and there can quickly add up to significant amounts of time.
Tony Rogerson, an independent SQL Server consultant based in the UK, writes in his blog that SSD drives have many beneits for SQL Server developers. "Imagine the performance boost you will get by putting tempdb on one of these...tempdb is used for all sorts of things and it means all sorts of things causing writes and reads to and from the disk, so with rotational disk technology you will always have a performance penalty in way of disk seek times," says Rogerson. "\[W\]ith these solid state disks \[those penalties\] all disappear."
Industry heavyweights are also starting to take notice, with an Intel executive recently quoted in a News.com article stating that the company would soon begin offering SSD drives up to 160GB in size. Smaller vendors like DVnation have also begun offering SSD products for home, SMB, and enterprise use, with prices generally starting at around $400 for a 16GB drive.
SSDs are still much more expensive than traditional hard drives, don't offer as much storage capacity, are more susceptible to data loss from energy and power surges, and early SSDs may fail after a fewer number of read and write operations than a conventional drive might. That said, SSDs--along with the rise of virtualization and the boom in iSCSI SAN adoption--will undoubtedly contribute to a revolution of storage in the enterprise.