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Affordable solid state drives: A look at performance and cost

How do consumer-grade solid state drives compare to enterprise-grade solid state drives when it comes to cost, performance, and reliability? Scott Lowe answers that question.

I've written about how you can measure the overall performance of your storage array and how you can break down performance into a dollar amount -- that is, a cost per Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). In the cost per IOPS article, I used the example of a 400 GB solid state disk that cost a whopping $23,000 (that's each). With a cost of $58,750 per total terabyte of solid state drive (SSD) storage, each SSD provides 6,000 IOPS of performance capability. From a pure IOPS/dollar perspective, the SSD was a clear winner in my calculations, but from a total cost perspective, it was very prohibitive.

Vendors have begun to release more affordable, but smaller, SSDs; Intel, Crucial/Micron, and OCX have released enterprise- and consumer-grade SSD products. Some of the performance data that is associated with these drives needs to be carefully analyzed to make sure that actual use cases are being tested against.  In the following video, Micron's product was tested under stellar circumstances; namely, the tests used an empty SSD and random 4K reads and writes, which will always provide better performance. In fact, on a 6 Gb SATA channel, the tester achieved in excess of 60,000 IOPS of read performance and about 48,000 IOPS of write performance. In contrast, Intel's X25-E Extreme enterprise-grade SSD gets 35,000 read IOPS and 3,300 write IOPS of performance according to the product's technical data sheet.

In this high level overview, I look at four SSDs that are much more affordable than the EMC unit I presented in the previous article. In Table A, I list one enterprise-grade SSD and three consumer-grade (but "RAIDable") SSDs. By RAIDable, I mean that, theoretically, you could lace these SSDs into a RAID 1/10, 5, or 6 array to gain the data protection benefits inherent in these configurations. Click each of the model numbers to get a look at the source information I've used for the Read and Write IOPS values and for the Mean Time Between Failure information. Table A

Manufacturer

Intel

Crucial

Kingston

Kingston

Model

X25-E Extreme

RealSSD C300

SSDNow V+

SSDNow V+

Grade

Enterprise

Consumer

Consumer

Consumer

Capacity (GB)

64

256

256

64

Price/Unit

$750

$800

$700

$200

$/TB

$12,000

$3,200

$2,800

$3,200

Read IOPS

35,000

60,000

6,300

6,300

Write IOPS

3,300

48,000

84

291

MTBF (hrs)

2,000,000

1,500,000

1,000,000

1,000,000

Four affordable SSDs

The Intel X25-E 64GB SSD is quite expensive when compared to the three other selections. However, the Intel device is targeted at the data center, which is apparent when you look at the MTBF information. The Intel device has a 2 million hour MTBF value, while the other SSDs in the table have 1.5 million and 1 million hour MTBF values; so you can expect that the Intel drive will last longer, which partially justifies its higher price. Intel also has a consumer grade line -- the X25-M and the X18-M -- which carry 1.2 million hour MTBF values, as well as much lower price tags ($449 for a 160 GB SSD, or just under $2,900 per TB).

With the exception of the Intel enterprise-grade SSD, each of the consumer-grade SSDs runs about the equivalent of $3,000 per TB. That's not a bad per TB cost if you're willing to risk running a consumer-grade drive in production.

Frankly, the IOPS values outlined for some of the drives are out of sight. I don't have one of each model drive to independently verify the values, so attempting to divine an IOPS per dollar value for these drives would be pretty ridiculous and pointless. That said, if you compare the values in my previous article in this series, you'll note that the cost per IOPS would be much lower for all of the drives listed in this article, particularly for the Intel and the Crucial offerings, assuming those IOPS values hold up in real-world usage.

There is also the issue of the RAID controller itself. I assume that, if you're looking for cheap storage, you're probably not going to stick these disks into an expensive SAN; you might even be attempting to build your own storage device. Can you even find a reasonably priced RAID controller that can support a bunch of these disks? If your goal is to get massive IOPS on the cheap (read IOPS, anyway -- the Kingston write IOPS are surprisingly low), you probably want to avoid dropping $20,000 on the controller, if you can even find one that supports massive throughput. Read an article that explains the situation. Once you go past a certain throughput level on individual drives, the PCI X8 slot into which a RAID controller is connected simply can't pass more data, so there is little point to continuing to add drives. In these cases, consider multiple smaller arrays instead, with each one connected to a separate RAID controller.

I'm providing the information in this article primarily to satisfy a curiosity. If you have an application that truly needs the IOPS levels in Table A, you probably also have needs that go well beyond a desire to run consumer grade storage in a RAID array in your data center. That said, the Intel device presented is an enterprise grade device with a much lower price tag than the EMC 400 GB SSD discussed in my previous post.

What we're seeing in the SSD market is encouraging. Hopefully, prices on enterprise-grade gear will continue to come down and eventually reach the consumer-grade levels I reference here.  When that happens, the days of storing data on magnetic platters spinning at insane speeds inside a tiny little box will come to an end, and we'll look back on today's hard drive and wonder how we ever thought that was a good idea.

Want to keep up with Scott Lowe's posts on TechRepublic?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

11 comments
derrington
derrington

Hi. Thanks for the article. One drawback of consumer ssds is that they are only sata i/f. I have an older laptop in which is a pata spinning drive; I will have to wait for the laptop to croak and then I can get a flashy new one with sata and hopefully ssd. It seems that ssds are nice to have at present, but their capacity is a little lacking for general laptop uses. Things will improve.

pjwvieviwdhy
pjwvieviwdhy

An informative article to be sure, but I'm amazed that you (along with a lot of others) have again missed some of the key pricing differentials that should be considered when purchasing SSDs particularly for workstations. What about the cost per read/write IOPs? Or the the cost per MB/sec? Where are those stats? I know that when I bought my first three SSDs $/(GB/TB) was at the lower-end of my concerns.

bwiese
bwiese

Drop in as many LSI (or other) SAS/SATA controllers as you can and use ZFS. Opensolaris if you're looking open-source or NexentaStor if you want something more commercial.

24hour
24hour

SSD pricing is definitely headed in the right direction. With all the benefits of SSD comes some negatives. Pricing was definitely one of them, but there are more. Data Recovery of Solid State Drives borders on impossible. Each drive manufacturer writes their own Algorithms. Unless you look at a company like Samsung who leases their SSD technology from SanDisk. With each new drive and manufacturer comes new complexities. At http://www.24hourdata.com we are one of the few companies who recover data from SSD. Take my advice if you have a SSD or are planning on going that route make sure your backup solution is in place.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

But the only SATA-III drive was the Micron, so it may not be an apples to apples comparison.

ferdie
ferdie

The Intel 80Gb and 160GB X25-M SSDs are the most consistent performers in the consumer space. I have seriously considered moving our database onto 2x 80GB X25-M in a RAID1 rather than 4 15k RPM SAS drives in RAID 10. The DB benchmarks seem to indicated that even a single Intel consumer SSD will match 3x 15K RPM SAS drives for random write performance. Currently in "wait and see" mode to see what other brave souls are doing/trying

matthew
matthew

Greetings Scott Lowe I always learn from and enjoy your articles, thank you for giving back to the community! Matthew Omaha, NE USA

Cyclops116
Cyclops116

He says he didn't have the drives available to test to get the $ per IOPs!

Realvdude
Realvdude

Should be 84 IOPS for the 64Gb drive and 291 IOPS for the 256Gb drive. They also have a 128Gb drive with a reported 158 IOPS. FYI - Wikipedia reports 90 IOPS as a ballpark for 7200 RPM drives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOPS

pjwvieviwdhy
pjwvieviwdhy

It states clearly the cost of each SSD, and then further down that nifty thing with all the pretty columns it states Read and Write IOPs. if you look really closely, you might even see that both of those last two categories even have their own rows! Now, while granted that I passed Grade 2 math and can do the number-crunching myself, I was simply pointing out that at the end of the day $/GB isn't anywhere close to being a deal-breaker for the applications that SSDs are typically used for. I know that for my own application, I (generally) scoff at $/GB and would much rather have an SSD that's extremely