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Solid State vs. Magnetic Drives: Cost vs. Efficiency

  • October 04 2011, 8:50am EDT

A recent article from Information Management points out that while virtualization is a popular option for future storage investments, solid-state disk development is also attractive, according to a new survey backed by IBM.

The Zogby International survey, on behalf of IBM, queried 250 U.S. IT executives in August 2011 about their near-term plans for data storage. The survey found that 48 percent of respondents are increasing virtualization dedications and 26 percent putting information in some type of cloud. The survey also found plenty of interest with IT investments in solid-state disk (SSD) technology.

According to the article, flash memory and SSD investments will increase for 24 percent of respondents, with 43 percent of IT decision makers sticking with or adding on SSD storage hardware. Of those involved in or planning SSD investments, 75 percent cited quicker data delivery as the reason. However, 71 percent of IT executives not interested in SSD and flash memory said cost was the main reason.

This got me to wondering about the relative costs and benefits of solid-state drives for the huge data challenges that face the insurance and financial services industries. There is no question that solid-state costs more. According to one Internet source,, hard drives cost around $0.10 per gigabyte for 3.5", or $0.20 for 2.5", while a typical flash SSD is $2 per gigabyte.

The same source, however, points to a number of significant advantages for SSDs over magnetic hard drives. First, it should be noted that magnetic drives have a number of moving parts (motor-driven spindle, platters) that can fail, while SSDs are essentially memory chips with no moving parts. SSDs are also lighter, a concern where they are installed in portable devices.

Hard disk drives use more electricity to rotate the platters, generating heat and noise, notes. This will doubtless be a concern for those who want to claim that their enterprises are “greener” than those of their competitors.

For any device used in the field and subject to bumps and drops, SSDs are preferable, because magnetic drives have those delicate moving parts that need to function optimally. For insurance claims adjusters and others who must take their computers into potentially rugged environments, SSDs would be the obvious choice.

Add to these benefits the fact that SSDs have faster access and read/write times, and it begins to look at least like you’re getting what you pay for with more expensive SSDs. The source also points out that — unlike magnetic drives — SSDs do not need to be defragmented periodically to maintain optimal performance.

So with SSDs we have devices that are faster, more reliable, less likely to be damaged, and more environmentally responsible than magnetic drives. Still, the cost is likely to be a powerful disincentive to SSD use, especially in this terrible economy.

What insurers and others must decide is whether the significant benefits offered by SSDs are enough to offset the increased costs. For now, the answer for many may be no, but as conditions improve, it is likely that more of us will opt for the more efficient product.

This column originally appeared on Insurance Networking News.

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