Flash Drive Fragmentation: Who Would Have Thought?

Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:32pm EDT

* Reuters is not responsible for the content in this press release.

In computing, speed and performance have always been the top goal.
Computers themselves were invented to drastically increase the speed of
computations so far more work could get done, and each successive
generation of development has served to increase that performance even
further. And even though quad-core computers move at lightning speed,
especially compared to yesterday's technology, furious and intense work
is now occurring in laboratories from Silicon Valley to Beijing to double
and triple that processing time yet again.

    It has always been a task to keep storage speeds somewhere near those of
processors, but because storage has traditionally been on mechanical
magnetic media this could not possibly be done. Another solution had to be
developed in order to access enough data at once to keep processors busy,
and this took the form of caching large amounts of data in electronic

    Taking that concept one step further, the Solid State Drive (SSD) also
known as the Flash Drive, was developed. This evolution took storage off
of mechanical devices and put it in electronic circuitry, where access
comes much closer the speed of memory. And one would think that another
barrier common to hard disks -- fragmentation -- would also be
eliminated. But unfortunately, that is not quite the case.

    The problem goes back to the NTFS file system, which is employed by all
current Microsoft operating systems. This file system is optimized for
hard drives, but not for SSDs. As data is saved to an SSD, free space is
quickly fragmented. Writing data to these small slices of free space
causes write performance to degrade to as much as 80 percent -- and this
degradation will begin to appear within a month or so of normal use. The
problem erodes speed, which is of course a primary value of an SSD.

    Fragmentation also increases the number of erase-write cycles on the
drive. This wouldn't be a problem, except that these drives have a
limited number of erase-write cycles available. So this free space
fragmentation is actually reducing the life of a drive.

    The answer is to employ a solution that will consolidate free space on
flash drives. Not only is write performance brought back to a high-speed
level and kept there, but once the solution has been in operation a short
time, the normal-use write-erase activity becomes substantially reduced.

    The net effect of optimizing SSDs -- as with hard drives -- is that the
performance and reliability are maximized, and the life of the drive is
factually extended.

    So yes, fragmentation has followed storage technology to flash drives --
but thankfully it is easily remedied by a solution to optimize drive free


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