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SSD drives have been around for several years now. But the issue of reliability still comes up.

I guess this is a follow up from this question posted 4 years ago, and last updated in 2011. It's now 2013, has much changed? I guess I'm looking for some real evidence, more than just a gut feel. Maybe you're using them in your DC. What's been your experience?

Reliability of ssd drives

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Why do you say that the reliability issue still comes up? –  ewwhite May 14 '13 at 5:53
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My wife's laptop SSD stops working every few months and requires a strange "power on but don't try booting for twenty minutes" fix. Then it's fine again. New technology, new ways of failing. –  Jaydee May 14 '13 at 9:07
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Just single data point, I'm afraid: I got a MacBook Retina Pro in September last year, and had terminal SSD failure within 60 days. Replacement unit has been fine, but I'm very wary of it now simply because user-replacement/upgrades of these is really not an option. –  Roddy May 14 '13 at 9:46
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You don't want a reliable drive anyway. If it fails at 2PM every day you'll be able to rely on it to set your watch. What you want is a resilient drive. –  Alan B May 14 '13 at 11:05
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SSDs have been around for a lot longer than “several years now”. More like 40, actually, and even if you mean Flash-based SSDs, we’re talking nigh on 20 years. –  alastair May 14 '13 at 15:26

6 Answers 6

up vote 138 down vote accepted

This is going to be a function of your workload and the class of drive you purchase...

In my server deployments, I have not had a properly-spec'd SSD fail. That's across many different types of drives, applications and workloads.

Remember, not all SSDs are the same!!

So what does "properly-spec'd" mean?

If your question is about SSD use in enterprise and server applications, quite a bit has changed over the past few years since the original question. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Identify your use-case: There are consumer drives, enterprise drives and even ruggedized industrial application SSDs. Don't buy a cheap disk meant for desktop use and run a write-intensive database on it.

  • Many form-factors are available: Today's SSDs can be found in PCIe cards, SATA and SAS 1.8", 2.5", 3.5" and other variants.

  • Use RAID for your servers: You wouldn't depend on a single mechanical drive in a server situation. Why would you do the same for an SSD?

  • Drive composition: There are DRAM-based SSDs, as well as the MLC, eMLC and SLC flash types. The latter have finite lifetimes, but they're well-defined by the manufacturer. e.g. you'll see daily write limits like 5TB/day for 3 years.

  • Drive application matters: Some drives are for general use, while there are others that are read-optimized or write-optimized. DRAM-based drives like the sTec ZeusRAM and DDRDrive won't wear-out. These are ideal for high-write environments and to front slower disks. MLC drives tend to be larger and optimized for reads. SLC drives have a better lifetime than the MLC drives, but enterprise MLC really appears to be good enough for most scenarios.

  • TRIM doesn't seem to matter: Hardware RAID controllers still don't seem to fully support it. And most of the time I use SSDs, it's going to be on a hardware RAID setup. It isn't something I've worried about in my installations. Maybe I should?

  • Endurance: Over-provisioning is common in server-class SSDs. Sometimes this can be done at the firmware level, or just by partitioning the drive the right way. Wear-leveling algorithms are better across the board as well. Some drives even report lifetime and endurance statistics. For example, some of my HP-branded Sandisk enterprise SSDs show 98% life remaining after two years of use.

  • Prices have fallen considerably: SSDs hit the right price:performance ratio for many applications. When performance is really needed, it's rare to default to mechanical drives now.

  • Reputations have been solidified: e.g. Intel is safe but not high-performance. OCZ is unreliable. Sandforce-based drives are good. sTec/STEC is extremely-solid and is the OEM for a lot of high-end array drives. Sandisk/Pliant is similar. OWC has great SSD solutions with a superb warranty for low-impact servers and for workstation/laptop deployment.

  • Power-loss protection is important: Look at drives with supercapacitors/supercaps to handle outstanding writes during power events. Some drives boost performance with onboard caches or leverage them to reduce wear. Supercaps ensure that those writes are flushed to stable storage.

  • Hybrid solutions: Hardware RAID controller vendors offer the ability to augment standard disk arrays with SSDs to accelerate reads/writes or serve as intelligent cache. LSI has CacheCade and its Nytro hardware/software offerings. Software and OS-level solutions have also exist to do things like provide local cache on application, database or hypervisor systems. Advanced filesystems like ZFS make very intelligent use of read and write-optimized SSDs; ZFS can be configured to use separate devices for secondary caching and for the intent log, and SSDs are often used in that capacity even for HDD pools.

  • Top-tier flash has arrived: PCIe flash solutions like FusionIO have matured to the point where organizations are comfortable deploying critical applications that rely on the increased performance. Appliance and SAN solutions like RanSan and Violin Memory are still out there as well, with more entrants coming into that space.

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TRIM is really important in drives with very little over-provisioning, which is manly the case in consumer drives where the $/GB is all-important. Most enterprise drives have enough over-provisioning that TRIM doesn't make any difference. –  Mr Alpha May 14 '13 at 8:32
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@MisterSmith See what I wrote above. Different SSDs have different characteristics. Use the right tool for the job. If I were to take a Corsair or other consumer-level drive and use it as an SSD for an active write-heavy database system or as the ZIL log device for a ZFS storage array, I'd burn through it in a month or two. –  ewwhite May 14 '13 at 13:00
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@JesperMortensen I deal with a lot of SSDs in ZFS storage setups. There I use SAS HBA cards. There's an entire set of best-practice for using SSDs and RAID controllers. HP Smart Array, for instance, has limits on how many SSDs can sit on the same controller before you encounter diminishing performance returns. LSI has their Fast Path solution for MegaRAID which basically disables the normal RAID controller optimizations meant for spinning disks, thus improving performance for SSD arrays. –  ewwhite May 14 '13 at 14:23
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@rickyduck, Actually in a data center, a single drive failure is protected by RAID, and means spening a few $$$ to replace it with no downtime; whereas in a gaming rig, a failure of the single drive is total data loss, and OS re-install. –  Bailey S May 14 '13 at 19:10
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Fantastic answer and some very good points made. +1 and accepted. –  Matt May 14 '13 at 21:52
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Every laptop at my work has either a SSDs or Hybrid since 2009. My SSD experience in summary:

  • What I'll call "1st Generation" drives, sold around 2009 mostly:
    • In the first year about 1/4 died, almost all from Syndrome of Sudden Death (SSD - It's funny, laugh). This was very noticeable to end users, and annoying, but the drastic speed difference made this constant failure pattern tolerable.
    • After 3 years all of the drives have died (Sudden Death or Wear-out), except two who are still kicking (actually L2Arc drives in a server now).
  • The "2nd Gen" drives, sold around 2010-11, are distinct from the previous generation as their Syndrome of Sudden Death rates dropped dramatically. However, the wear-out "problem" continued.
    • After the first year most drives still worked. There were a couple Sudden Deaths (SIDS?). A couple failed from wear-out.
    • After 2-3 years a few more than half are still working. The first year rate of failure has essentially continued.
  • The "3rd Gen" drives, sold 2012+ are all still working.
    • After the first year all still work (knock on wood).
    • The oldest drive I've got is from Mar 2012, so no 2-3 year data yet.

SSD Failure (Cumulative)


May 2014 Update:
A few of the "2nd Gen" drives have since failed, but about a third of the original drives are still working. All the "3rd Gen" drives from the above graphic are still working (knock on wood). I've heard similar stories from others, but they still carry the same warning about death on swift wings. The vigilant will keep their data backed up well.

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My experience echoes this. That said, we still provide USB hard drives for employees to use as time machine backups (in addition to our standard offsite backup regimen), to allow for quick, granular restores in the event of catastrophic failure or loss. –  EEAA May 14 '13 at 4:37
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Give the 3rd generation another year or two. ;) –  Andy May 14 '13 at 12:27
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Also worth noting that SSDs are far more likely to suffer from firmware bugs than HDDs; the firmware is both more complicated and less mature, which is not a good combination. –  alastair May 14 '13 at 15:29
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@Andy is right. Starting with 2009, you say the half-life was about a year. For the 2010 to 2011 we're barely at 3 years old for the middle of that range right now, where you indicate a half-life of 3 years. That could only be based on current observations. Whether the half-life for 2012 & 2013 drives has improved beyond 3 years can't really be known until at least 2016. (We could try to extrapolate from early failures, but those would likely just be isolated manufacturing defects, not caused by long-term regular use.) –  Andrew Vit May 14 '13 at 17:15
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I've been using 2 x Intel X25M 80Gb G1's since 2010. My work involves heavy read/write processes. Every few months or so I reset the drive (I don't have to) to bring back performance, but otherwise zero problems. I added a 256Gb Samsung 230 last year. No problems thus far! –  Antillar Maximus May 16 '13 at 11:51

New SSDs from random manufacturers can have severe bugs resulting in sudden death. This is unlikely to happen with a mechanical HDD's logic board. This is the only real issue at this point in time. Buying SSDs from experienced SSD manufacturers such as Intel reduces the risk of this happening. As controllers and firmware become more standardised and shared between manufacturer's this problem will go away.

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Some (most?) brands are doing weird things in their firmware just to get a bit higher results in benchmarks and you end up with freezes, blue screens, ...

Then some SSD models are really bad with near 50% returns withing the first few months of use. You have to be careful not to buy a SSD model like that, you must do some research before buying. There are really bad ones if you look at the SSD page of this components reliability article, it's in French but it's OK for brands, models, and return percentages.

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Here is a link to an automatic translated version of the french article translate.googleusercontent.com/… –  Stefan K. May 14 '13 at 9:37

In my experience, the real problem are the dying controllers, not the flash memory itself. I've installed around 10 Samsung SSDs (830, 840 [not pro]) and none of them has made any problems so far. The total opposite are drives with Sandforce controllers, i had several problems with OCZ agility drives, especially freezes in irregular time intervals, where the drive stops working until i poweroff/-on the computer. I can give you two advices:

  1. If you need a high reliability, choose a drive with MLC, better SLC flash. Samsungs 840 f.e. has TLC flash, and a short warranty, i think not without any reason ;)

  2. Choose a drive with a controller that is known to be stable.

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Reminds me of the dying controllers on current LED based lighting. The LED's last a very long time but the controllers don't seem to. –  Matt May 16 '13 at 2:53
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Who knows, but maybe it's part of industries planned obsolescence :) –  klingt.net May 16 '13 at 7:52

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