SOURCE: Bruce Boyers Marketing Services

November 25, 2008 12:50 ET

Don't Let Fragmentation Follow You to the Flash Drive Future

BURBANK, CA--(Marketwire - November 25, 2008) - If science fiction is any indication of the things to come, there will be a time when we will simply dictate commands verbally to a computer, which will then instantly translate them and comply. This includes everything from a simple data inquiry to a detailed analysis of a star system. The writers never quite give away the internal structures of such computers, but it's a good hypothetical guess that they probably aren't utilizing mechanical disk drives for storage. Data is probably held suspended in a magnetic field for lightning-fast access or some such.

Certainly, a substantial leap toward that future is the flash drive, or SSD (solid state drive). As this drive becomes the standard for storage, we leave behind the terribly slow access times associated with mechanical drives, and the plethora of technologies that had to be developed to bridge the difference in speed between these drives and the computer itself. Because a flash drive is so much faster, the data stream from storage to memory, and hence to CPU, occurs at a much higher rate.

File fragmentation, which so plagued hard drives for so many years, is something else that most likely doesn't affect our futuristic science-fiction computers. And it would seem that it wouldn't affect the stepping-stone to those systems, the SSD.

Oh, but wait. It does.

Believe it or not, file fragmentation is not a result of mechanical drive operation, but of the NTFS file system, common to all Microsoft Windows operating systems; data is saved to the drive in fragments so as to better utilize drive space. In a similar way, NTFS saves data to flash drives in such a way that free space becomes rapidly fragmented. These small free spaces cause write performance to degrade by as much as 80 percent, and that degradation will begin to manifest within a month or so of normal use. This performance degradation defeats a primary value of SSDs, which is speed.

Flash rives also have a limited number of erase-write cycles, and increasing the occurrence of erases and writes wears out the SSD faster. The fragmentation of free space causes a greater number of erase-write cycles, thereby shortening the life of the drive.

Like the hard drive, SSD performance must be optimized in order to provide the most gain. This is done by employing a solution that frees space on an SSD. Utilizing such a solution, write performance is brought back to a high-speed level and maintained there, and once the solution has been in operation a short time, the normal-use write-erase activity becomes substantially reduced. SSD performance is maximized, and the life of the drive is lengthened.

As you adapt your next step to our ideal computing future, make sure that along with all the other problems inherent in past technologies that you're leaving behind, you include fragmentation as well.

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