The TCO of solid state drives

"Today, SSDs represent a calculation IT purchasers cannot afford to ignore."

Solid state drives have been touted as the most important PC innovation in years. But because SSDs seem expensive at first glance, some have doubted their corporate computing value, value that becomes clear when you take a close look at total cost of ownership (TCO).

First, a word about storage space in corporate notebooks. A 2007 study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that approximately 70% of business professionals only need a 60GB or smaller hard disk drive in their notebooks. With 128GB SSDs now available, a growing number of IT managers are considering the technology for employees that are on the road or work from home occasionally, and PC suppliers are responding by offering more notebooks with an SSD option. SSD-equipped servers and desktops will follow.

In fact, since SSDs have no moving parts, are extremely durable, emit virtually no heat and offer better performance than most rotating disk hard drives, they are rapidly gaining supporters worldwide.

Even greater interest can be expected once corporate IT execs do a thorough SSD TCO analysis, where TCO is defined as the cost incurred over the entire PC product life cycle, taking into account not only acquisition costs but also costs associated with maintenance and downtime.


At roughly 10 times the cost of a hard drive, the price tag of an SSD will make many IT decision-makers hesitate. But there are a number of areas where use of SSDs will lead to savings, both in network PCs and, eventually, network servers.

The largest area of savings can be attributed to the exceptional reliability of SSDs. The same McKinsey study estimated that 44% of firms experience a notebook hard drive failure rate of 5% to 10% annually, while another 37% suffer more than 10% notebook PC hard drive failures per year.

The downtime attributed to these failures can be expensive in terms of business processes idled, but the costs should also include the time and output gains lost when each employee with a faulty PC is unable to work. For example, a consultant or lawyer who bills hundreds of dollars per hour would recoup the cost of an SSD in a few hours. Further, there can be significant labor costs associated with the IT resources used to replace damaged drives and recover lost data. Additionally, SSD is immune to fragmentation, so additional performance degradation and associated de-frag delays can be avoided.

Performance gains

Beyond reliability gains, SSDs also bring significant performance benefits. For example, boot time on notebook PCs is about twice as fast, and applications launch 1.5 to 3 times more quickly. Read and write performance can be up to five times faster. For servers and storage, the benefit depends on the application, but performance gains average about three times more input/output operations per second, especially for random read tasks, as compared with a high-end hard disk drive.

Due to these performance gains, one SSD has the potential to replace four or more hard drives, reducing cost while at the same time increasing server productivity. And it should be noted that the mean time between failure for an SSD is 2 million hours versus 300,000 hours for a typical hard disk drive.

Power consumption is also a factor that IT decision-makers should consider. SSDs use 30% less power in notebooks than hard disks, which extends battery life in laptops about 10% and offers potentially dramatic electricity savings when used in enterprise servers. Moreover, SSDs don't generate heat like hard disks, relieving costs associated with cooling.

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Brian Beard

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