Given that businesses are having to store and process an ever-more unwieldy quantity of corporate data in the current information-heavy age, it’s become increasingly essential for companies to consider their choice of storage solutions wisely.
Following a long period of market domination by the traditional hard disk drive (HDD), the last few years have seen a number of newer, more advanced options coming onto the market, offering several advantages over the older technology. Solid state drives (SSDs) have gained a lot of traction over the last decade or so, thanks to their lightning-fast performance and durability, but in recent years a number of hybrid storage options have emerged as another alternative, allowing users to balance the pros and cons of HDD and SSD technology in various ways.
Ultimately, the needs of each company are different, meaning organisations are likely to base their choice of storage solution on the requirements of their industry as much as the specific advantages and disadvantages of their chosen technology option. There are no universal answers here – just a number of factors that IT managers should take into account before they select which storage type works best for their business.
HDD – the established affordable option
The traditional HDD has been around for decades and remains based on the same mechanical principles that have defined these devices from the outset, with data stored magnetically on a metal disk spun at a rapid pace. This technology is extremely well-established but has essentially reached a plateau in terms of performance, making them a known quantity in both the positive and negative senses of the term.
- Affordability: businesses can purchase multiple HDDs with significant storage capacity for a fraction of the price of newer, more expensive SSD or hybrid options.
- Storage capacity: a single HDD can be used to store up to ten terabytes of data – something that SSDs cannot yet emulate.
- Inefficiency: HDDs are louder, create more heat and consume more power than their flash-based counterparts, making them indiscreet and more expensive to run.
- Fragility: due to their delicate moving parts, HDDs can be damaged easily if dropped or struck, while magnets can interfere with their operations, causing data loss.
- Lack of speed: HDDs are much slower than newer technology options, creating delays in accessing data or booting up programmes running from the drive.
Best suited for…
- Smaller businesses that are willing to trade off performance for a smaller upfront cost.
- Companies that depend on being able to store extremely large quantities of data.
SSD – the cutting-edge premium option
SSDs have found a significant market in the last few years due to the performance benefits they offer over their electromechanical counterparts. Using the same type of flash memory found in USB drives, mobile phones and SD cards, they tend to be favoured by those willing to pay a premium for rapid access to data, and as an emerging technology, their capabilities will continue to expand in the coming years.
- Speed: the flash-based memory technology SSDs offer is many times faster than the dated mechanical principles of the HDD, allowing for near-instantaneous data access.
- Efficiency: the lack of moving parts means SSDs can operate near-silently and with a minimum of power usage, making them ideal for use on the move.
- Durability: the internal design of SSDs is much more robust than HDDs, meaning they can absorb impacts without the same risk of data loss.
- Price: SSDs are much more expensive to produce and purchase, with a one-terabyte SSD costing more than £300 as of January 2015 – around six times the cost of an HDD of a similar size.
- Small capacities: to date, SSD manufacturers have not been able to develop drives that offer the same kind of storage space that HDDs provide, meaning users will need work around their limited capacities.
Best suited for…
- High-end tech-oriented businesses that demand instantaneous access to data and can afford to pay the higher price for the newer technology.
- Companies that rely on being able to transport their equipment from place to place on a regular basis and require a storage solution that can withstand physical stress.
Hybrid storage – balancing the pros and cons of HDD and SSD
Hybrid storage options have emerged relatively recently and aim to offer a halfway house between the newer SSDs and the older HDDs. They combine flash-based memory with the rotating electromagnetic platters of a traditional hard disk, allowing regularly-accessed data to be stored on the smaller SSD portion, and the remainder to be saved to the HDD partition. This means the technology combines the key attributes of both of the respective technologies.
- Speed when you need it: the dual-format nature of hybrid storage means that critical data and applications can be saved in a flash-based format where they can be accessed instantaneously, while data that does not need this kind of rapid access is stored on the HDD.
- The benefits of SSD at a lower price: hybrid storage offers many of the most attractive aspects of an SSD, including speed and efficiency, but at a much lower cost than an actual SSD of a similar capacity.
- Greater storage capacity: since these devices incorporate a traditional HDD, users can benefit from the greater storage space the older technology offers.
- Durability restricted by the HDD: hybrid storage options cannot offer the same level of protection against physical damage as SSDs, since the HDD portion still contains moving parts.
- Worst of both worlds: by design, hybrid models combine some of the weaker aspects of both technologies, including a higher price compared to pure HDDs, the slow performance of the HDD component and poorer efficiency compared to SSDs.
Best suited for…
- Companies that would be keen to run both an SSD and HDD together and wish to purchase a solution that combines both into a single device.
- Firms that only require rapid access to a small amount of critical data and are otherwise happy to use older HDD technology for the bulk of their storage needs.