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Disk Storage Systems

A World of Difference: Enterprise vs. Consumer SSDs

Not all solid-state drives (SSDs) are created equal—some are intended for consumers, others for the enterprise. The former provides a step up from rotating media in consumer electronics and personal computers, whereas the latter addresses an entirely different need: high reliability, superior performance and stronger integrity for business-critical data. Understanding the vast differences in capabilities between consumer-focused products and enterprise-class, flash-based solid-state drives is essential to making the smartest choice in a solid-state storage solution.

The SSD market is flooded with drives that claim high performance and reliability for data center environments. Unfortunately, leveraging the wrong SSD could result in significant loss due to unexpected failures and data loss events.

Consumers today demand power-efficient storage and speed in their mobile devices to organize their appointments, data, pictures, music and other digital content. Contrast that with next-generation data center requirements: fast, reliable and secure storage with around-the-clock high availability and fail-safe access to data. While there may be common attributes in both types of storage, their requirements, use and capabilities could hardly be less similar.

Consumer SSDs are used in laptops, desktops and mobile devices where preserving power is the most important criteria to ensure battery life. Looking at the typical home laptop/desktop user, the most common applications would be for storage of email, productivity applications, and web content. Except for maybe a unique file here or photo there, little in these applications can be considered critical.

Enterprise-class solid-state storage, in contrast, is used in data centers, where it’s critical to maintain uninterrupted operations and highly reliable access to data from applications such as databases, email and customer relationship management are continuously accessed from different locations, at different times, increasing the risk of loss or performance degradation from connection problems or system downtime.

Keeping Data Safe

Data integrity and availability are of the highest importance in enterprise data centers. Therefore, enterprise SSDs are designed to provide full data-path protection with error-correction coverage and power-fail protection against unscheduled power loss. Unlike consumer SSD applications, the deployment of enterprise-class SSDs must often realize a longer service life with intense read/write transactions and performance requirements. Therefore, many enterprise-class SSDs are designed to survive in mission-critical storage area networks under 24/7/365 workloads for more than ten years.

This comparison chart illustrates the vast differences in both uses and capabilities of consumer and enterprise SSDs:

 

Let’s now look at the controllers in enterprise-class SSDs – the “brains” of the drive. The primary functions of the controller are to respond to host commands, transfer data between the host and flash media, and manage the flash media so that it achieves high reliability and endurance throughout the operational lifetime of the drive. How well a controller simultaneously handles enterprise-class SSD management and host data transfers is what differentiates it from consumer SSDs.

Enterprise solutions require uninterrupted operation. Therefore, controllers in enterprise-class SSDs are designed to maintain consistent performance behavior while transferring data, irrespective of the amount of capacity in use or volume of traffic generated to/from the drive. Additionally, these controllers do not require any host-side support to manage the drive’s media. Wear-leveling operations and background media error correction algorithms are designed so that data transfer performance to the host is unchanged while these operations run in the background to the flash.

Then, there’s the environment. Size, cooling and power limitations require data centers to employ the most space and energy-efficient products. Because enterprise systems use tens, if not hundreds, of SSDs in one highly concentrated space, the drives must operate in some of the most concentrated spaces and harshest temperatures, all while drawing the least amount of power. Enterprise-class SSDs, therefore, typically pack more capacity into a single unit than do consumer SSDs. Furthermore, IT professionals have a broader selection of enterprise-class SSD interfaces – SAS, SATA and PCI Express – that give greater flexibility to systems whose footprints might otherwise limit the use of solid-state storage.

Conclusion

As stated earlier, not all SSDs are created equal. Data center operators are continuously challenged to improve performance to keep up with the demands of high-throughput, business-critical applications. This is where enterprise-class, solid-state drives such as sTec’s come in; they deliver the performance, reliability and design flexibility that consumer SSDs simply cannot achieve.

 

By Sean Stead, sTec

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Sean Stead

Product Marketing Manager for SSDs

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