SOURCE: Bruce Boyers Marketing Services

February 19, 2009 07:22 ET

Blowing Through Flash Drive Limitations

BURBANK, CA--(Marketwire - February 19, 2009) - Since non-volatile flash drives were announced a few years ago, they have proliferated everywhere. This certainly comes as no surprise; because flash drives (also known as solid state drives, or SSDs) are composed of solid state circuitry and have no mechanical functions like hard drives, they are many times faster. The lack of mechanical parts also gives these drives a stability and resistance to shock that hard drives don't have, as a head crash is never going to occur.

Of late, flash drives have also been incorporated into RAID sets. The benefits of SSD RAID are many. The RAID configuration provides even more efficiency beyond that of single flash drives as well as other benefits such as a smaller footprint and savings in energy consumption. It is certain that it won't be long before flash drives have replaced hard drives altogether, especially in mission-critical applications.

The smaller form factor also makes solid state RAID sets ideal for applications in which hard drives are impractical, such as cockpits, tanks, submarines and other civilian applications with specific space constraints and where physical shock is a concern.

Flash drives suffer from a serious limitation, however.

The problem is twofold. First, flash drives have a limited number of erase-write cycles available to them. Anything that increases the number of erase-write cycles therefore shortens the life of the drive.

Second, the NTFS file system -- used in all of Microsoft's current operation systems -- is optimized to save data on hard drives, not solid state drives. As data is saved to solid state drives, the free space on the drives is caused to break up into small pieces. This shattering of free space slows SSD performance dramatically; within a month of normal use, solid state drive write performance can degrade by as much as 80 percent. This limitation cuts right across the primary benefit of solid state drives: speed.

This breaking up of free space also increases the number of erase-write cycles, which shortens the life of the drive.

To rectify this problem, a solution must be employed that optimizes free space on an SSD. When this is done, write performance is brought back to a high-speed level and kept there, and once the solution has been in operation a short time, the write-erase activity becomes substantially reduced. Performance is maximized, and the life of the drive is lengthened.

From single-drive to multi-drive RAID applications, flash drives bring a substantial boost to overall system performance. Ensure that free space consolidation is also employed to make the most of these gains.

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