It was a little surprising that we were the only ones to talk about solid-state media reliability. Frankly, we got more inquiries on this part of our presentation than the benchmarking slides. This is really one area where SSD manufacturers could be more transparent; all customers, enterprise and desktop alike, are hungry for this type of information.
As solid-state technology continues to mature, the performance delta between different products narrows. That's why we believe addressing reliability is "the next frontier." After all, what good is superior performance if you can't trust the storage media to operate dependably?
We've had many IT professionals express their frustration to us because manufacturers aren't willing to share this data, which is what precisely what they need in order to deploy the technology in mission critical environments.
The Consumer Side
On the consumer, we still believe that concerns about write endurance aren't an issue. For more information, check out Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than A Hard Drive? for the calculations. Even with a 120 GB SSD based on 25 nm NAND flash, you’d have to write something like 500 GB a day to kill the drive in under a year. That's pretty unlikely when you consider the average user writes less than 10 GB a day.
Plus, there's this misconception that a 5000 P/E cycle-rating means the drive goes dead when you hit 5001. That's not the case, though. C.C. Wu, director of engineering at Innodisk, gave an interesting presentation at the Flash Memory Summit, showing that it's often possible to exceed the rated P/E spec of NAND flash, sometimes by two or three times, without overwhelming the ECC engine. That means it's still likely that your SSD will continue to operate even after it exceeds its rated life.
Of course, we have other factors to consider, too. The idea of spending many times more money on less capacity in the name of performance simply doesn't resonate well with many folks, particularly when storage needs continue exploding. Let's say you have an extra $300 left in the budget for your next HTPC. Do you spend that on 6 TB of storage for a library of digitized movies or the fastest 128 GB SSD to improve performance? Even folks who can afford pricey SSDs will sometimes pick capacity over performance. Why? The amount of data we need to save expands at a very fast pace. SSDs are and will continue to be a luxury item that we buy after capacity requirements are met.
The good news is that NAND continues to benefit from some of the most advanced manufacturing technologies available. You can bet on prices per gigabyte dropping over time. And hopefully, reliability continues to receive the emphasis it deserves. That should be sweet music to the ears of every technologist. And it's all the more reason to pay attention as SSDs continue evolving.