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SSDs vs. 20,000 rpm drives: Who wins? I do!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to spend some quality time behind the keyboard, I’ve been suffering from a gigantic “honey-do” list and it was difficult for me to use some huge work emergency to weasel out of it! In the time I haven’t been blogging there’s been some major storage news: Sun says that SSDs are ready for arrays while Western Digital is reportedly developing 20,000 rpm drives.

I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on an SSD for my desktop. After going SAS, I’m open to the prospect of even higher performance for my desktop disk subsystem, and it’s something I think I’m going to be chasing from now on.

We’re currently rolling out SSDs in a limited deployment for highly available single hard disk bay blades (say that three times fast). IBM has managed to fit a RAID 1 setup in a single drive bay for their line of blades and we like the performance numbers as well as the idea of no moving parts at all in a blade with onboard storage. Not only will we have the higher MTBF of the SSDs but the read performance is crazy!

Three months ago I was talking about how SAS would spell doom for SATA. Well, now I’m ready to eat some crow because in no way did I expect SSDs to become this close to affordable this quickly. Take a look at the non-server market: Lenovo and Apple are already offering laptop models with SSD exclusively.

SSDs have a lower power and heat footprint and have great read speeds. Write speeds aren’t as good as the read speeds, but slap a couple together in RAID 0 and that issue becomes moot. SSD looks like a shoe-in to be the next big thing. Or does it. . . ?

My take on the possibility of a 20,000 rpm drive is that Western Digital might not like the idea of the next big thing being something that isn’t, well, theirs. They also just released the 10,000 rpm Velociraptor SATA drive, which in itself something spectacular, since it brings the performance of higher-rpm SAS down to the cheap, ubiquitous SATA controller.

Details are sketchy when it comes to the potential heat and power of the alleged 20,000 rpm drive. It may not even make it to market, and there might not be much place for it with solid state drives delivering even faster performance with less in the way of power and cooling requirements. But me, I’m interested to see a knife fight between traditional disks (and maybe hybrids) and SSDs, since it can only result in me getting a faster storage subsystem, and it may lower prices even more.

In fact, I’m a little annoyed that it’s taken the disk industry this bleeding long to come up with an additional 5,000 rpm. I’m sure some of you out there are in the hard drive industry and have a list of reasons why it’s a hard thing to do. To which I, the jaded technologist/consumer, say, “So?” We live in an age where we have teraflop chips on video cards, where chips in mp3 players have more computing power than the first Space Shuttle, where cars park themselves and where we can see full color photos beamed back from Mars. MARS!! If you ask me, 15,000 rpm has been the ceiling for waaaaaaaay too long.