Hybrid hoedown

GCN Insider | Trends and technologies that affect the way government does IT

Fast memory is expensive. When it comes to holding data, system builders have always set up a hierarchy of memory, balancing the speed of solid-state memory with the low cost of relatively slower disk drives. Now, disk drive manufacturers are taking advantage of solid-state memory speeds as well.

This year, hard-drive manufacturers will introduce hard drives that have flash memory modules to hold copies of the most frequently consulted material on that disk.

Hard drives for notebook PCs will be the first to come with flash additions, though most drives in the years to come will have flash, said Joni Clark, a product marketing manager for Seagate Technology of Scotts Valley, Calif., and a spokesperson for the Hybrid Storage Alliance, a collation of hard-drive manufacturers such as Seagate, Hitachi Ltd. of Tokyo and Western Digital Corp. of Lake Forest, Calif.

The first hybrid units will come with 256MB modules.

Flash can benefit hard drives in a number of ways, Clark said. Seagate has estimated that when the frequently consulted material is transferred to flash, hard drives can rest up to 70 percent longer, thereby extending their lives. If the OS is placed on the flash module, boot times can be speeded up by 25 percent. In mobile devices, flash drives can extend battery life by as much as 25 percent,
because the hard drives don't need to activate their power-hungry controllers to fetch data as often.

Of course, there is a catch. Systems using these new drives will have to run an operating system that can determine the correct material to go on those flash drives. Microsoft Vista takes advantage of these capabilities through its new SuperFetch feature (which also places frequently consulted data on attached key drives). Clark didn't know of any effort going on to use the feature with Linux, however.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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