Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why So Sad Hybrid? (Part 1 of 2)

There is a Chinese proverb; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  There is a similar saying when it comes to the speed of computers; its speed is determined by its slowest component.  In the past, the bottleneck would be the CPU itself.  It has also been the bus or pathway between various components.  Today, the slowest component is the hard drive. 

While other components are chugging along at the speed of light, hard drives have to wait while a spinning platter reaches its proper placement so a magnetic thingamajig can read some random 1’s and 0’s and attempt to make sense of it.  Various strategies have been developed in an attempt to solve this problem.  One attempt is to use multiple hard drives and combine them into one monster hard drive which while it increases the storage capacity linearly, the read and seek times increase geometrically.  But this RAID solution is fairly expensive and not really applicable in small servers, desktops or personal machines.  It’s just not cost-effective.

So you can imagine the cries of joy when flash memory was developed.  Not quite ROM (Read-Only Memory) and not quite RAM, but a memory which would hold its state like ROM but can be written to and hold its state, like RAM, and can hold its state without the need for constant electricity.  It is best known as USB drives, thumb drives or flash drives.  By whatever name it is known, this type of memory is found in all of these portable drives, and has allowed for the explosion of growth in the tablet market.

The next logical place for this memory is to try and make an entire hard drive based on this flash memory.  The technology is fairly simple.  RAM disks were popular in the early days on the personal computer and one could really detect the performance increase.  While no one really expected to replicate the performance increase, people did expect to see a performance increase when this type of flash technology was made into a stand-alone hard drive or even its cousin, the hybrid drive, a drive with an SSD partition as well as a traditional platter for additional storage.

Billions of dollars have been spent in infrastructure to build the drives that experts said there would be a demand for.  Yet SSD drives and hybrid drives have not really taken off.  It is not the cost of these drives, although that is a small factor.  It is not the performance as every independent test shows that these drives perform as advertised.   Why haven’t flash memory drives taken off and more importantly, how does this affect us bot owners?  I’ll discuss that next time.

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