The progression of computer storage devices is pretty remarkable. It wasn’t that long ago floppy disks were the status quo. Then hard drives came along, and this new technology drastically improved storage capabilities and the functionality of computers as a whole. Next, we were introduced to the first thumb drives, and those little 8MB USB sticks quickly grew to the 1TB flash drives that exist today.
In the past few years, Flash storage has become the business standard for mainstream storage arrays. In fact, it’s hard to envision a new enterprise-class array that doesn’t use flash in some shape or form. One of the biggest contributors to this flash trend surge has been an increase in storage capacities coupled with a drop in prices.
Back in May 2014, SanDisk announced the industry’s first 4TB enterprise-class SAS solid-state drive. For the longest time, one of the main advantages for disks in the Flash Storage vs. Hard Drive debate was the high cost of flash for such a small storage capacity. Sure there were big advantages to flash, but could people really justifying paying all that money for a 128GB SSD when they could get a much, much cheaper 512GB HDD?
But as time goes on, economies of scale are decreasing the price gap. The increase of flash manufacturing has led to a decline in pricing. That isn't to say flash is cheap, but prices are certainly becoming more reasonable for the average consumer and medium-sized businesses.
For those still on the fence as to whether or not they want to transition to flash, it may be worthwhile to discuss a few of its benefits. We mentioned that price and size limitations were often a drawback of flash (although that is changing), but it also came with some impressive capabilities.
One distinct advantage of the flash-based SSDs is they have no moving parts. On the contrary, HDDs have rapid rotating disks coated with magnetic material. These disks spin at hundreds of miles an hour when they are in operation, so any excessive movement could throw something off. SSDs don’t have that problem. No moving parts decreases the likelihood of destroying your data. So, if you use your computer in rougher situations, you may want to consider flash as a solution.
SSDs are much faster than their HDD counterparts. Computers equipped with SSDs will boot much faster than a hard drive, which requires time for the disk to speedup. This also means disks will be slower during normal operation. On top of booting faster, SSDs launch apps faster, transfer documents and have a higher overall performance because information is stored in an array of memory cells.
Size and Sound
While you may not be looking for a super sleek and stealthy computer, SSDs are much smaller and quieter than HDDs. Even the latest hard drives make some noise, and there is a limit to how small they can go, given the spinning platters. As of now, SSDs don’t have such a limitation. They can continue to shrink as time goes on, allowing for smaller devices that use them.
Finally, there is the lifetime of the device. You might have heard flash memory has a limited number of uses, and that’s true. So while technically SSDs can wear out over time, new technology has significantly lengthen flash cell life. You’re much more likely to discard the system for obsolescence before you start running into issues. Also, hard drives don’t last forever either. The moving mechanical parts began to fail, along with normal wear over time. This means longevity is pretty much a wash when considering which storage system to go with.
Flash will continue to dominate as the business standard until there is a strong competing technology that matches its capabilities. There have been plenty of experiments in alternative memory technologies, like carbon nanotubes or memristors, but these efforts have failed to deliver products in significant volume. That doesn’t mean new technology won’t come along, especially as these alternatives are improved upon over the next few years. For now though, flash is still the future of storage.