Illustration: Interior of an SSD.
Spinning disk (HDD) and flash storage (SSD) drives are nearly the same cost these days, so it’s no surprise that broadcasters are turning increasingly to SSDs for long-term storage of our most critical media files. But did you know that SSDs and camera memory cards should be powered up from time to time, to maintain a high writing speed and reliable data storage?
The traditional HHD is being replaced by solid-state-storage for many broadcast and production applications. The advantages of SSDs carry with them the requirement of proper use, which includes an occasional power up and read/write cycle.
Most of us realise that humans require some amount of exercise to maintain good health. The same can be said for both SSD and HDD storage systems. Engineers expect and assume that energy will always be applied to these storage modules. Unfortunately, leaving any drive on a shelf without power for years, will almost certainly lead to lost data. For broadcasters with vast archives stored on drives in storerooms or warehouses, the failure of a single large storage drive (or RAID) from non-use can be catastrophic.
Mechanical disk drives have long posed serious challenges and perils. Transfer speeds are slow, so moving large data files can significantly reduce a broadcast facility’s productivity. More critically, the high failure rate (relatively) of these drives is a constant threat. The distance between the mechanical platters is measured in nanometers, literally, wavelengths of light, so there is little space for the dislocation of spinning discs due to shock.
Rich Leonarz, Samsung’s Director of Marketing, compares it to flying a 747 at maximum speed one foot above the treetops in a forest. Any issue, large or small, could potentially crash the drive and result in a loss of data. This is in addition to the normal wear and tear of mechanical arms moving continuously back and forth.
For some high-volume applications, like reality TV, broadcasters still need the option of inexpensive high-capacity spinning disk drives.
Benefits of solid-state storage
For broadcasters operating in a rough-and-tumble high-pressure environment, the move to flash storage can’t come too soon. SSDs contain no moving parts, so there is less worry from dropping the drive inside a cluttered satellite truck, or operating it in a high vibration environment like racecars and fighter jets.
SSDs offer 100x the output speed of mechanical drives, so it’s not surprising that each year, traditional HDDs recede further down in the industry’s application hierarchy. Currently, the lower cost per gig of storage on HDDs make them still a good choice for reality TV and some backup applications. However, as files grow exponentially larger with higher resolution cameras and recording formats, the SSD’s superior speed becomes imperative for broadcasters in order to maintain a reasonably smooth and productive workflow.
Mechanical drives are also more limited with respect to capacity. Due to heat and physical constraints, there are only so many platters that can be placed one atop of the other. SSD flash memory, on the other hand, may be stacked in dozens of layers, with each new generation of SSD chip stacked ever higher, and drive manufacturers derive more bits out of each package.
The M.2 form factor SSD has the physical form of a gum stick with 2TB capacity.
Samsung is moving from 256Gb flash chips in 48-layers to 512Gb chips in 64-layers. Even given this meteoric rise in drive capacity, the PC board inside a typical SSD occupies only half the shell’s physical space, so there is ample room for cooling and dissipation of potentially damaging heat.
PCIe-configured drives feature a copper layer integrated into the label to help dissipate heat and maintain safe temperatures. In essence, the amount of heat that must be dissipated is directly proportional to how much energy is applied. SSDs typically contain a thermal throttle temperature switchthat reduces the speed of data transfer to prevent overheating and ensure reliable data capture and transfer.
The new Samsung T3 V-NAND SSD is a technological tour de force, optimized for shooters and editors working with heavy 4K data loads. The 51 gram 2TB drive is the size of business card and offers high performance via USB 3.1 at up to 450 MB/s.
Don’t forget to exercise
Samsung states that its consumer-class drive can be left unpowered safely for about a year. Enterprise data drives, on the other hand, designed for heavy-duty use with continuous data loads, are a different can of bits, with only a six-month window of reliability without power. Suffice it to say, in order to achieve maximum performance, an enterprise drive is designed for continuous power inside a PC or as part of a rack server.
Samsung consumer drives are designed for 40GB of writing per day. Pro series drives are intended to write 40GB of data per day for ten years. Enterprise data center drives are designed for three full-drive writes per day or the equivalent of 12TB of writing per day for ten years.
Outside of a server environment, some broadcasters may not use a particular drive for months or years, and for these folks, including many shooters, it is important to power up their SSDs and camera memory cards from time to time, to maintain a high writing speed and reliable data storage.
Like any recording medium, SSDs have a limited life expectancy. The silicon material in flash memorycan only support so many read-write cycles, and will eventually fail. In practice, however, the solid-state EOL of over 100 years should not be much of a concern.
Barry Braverman is a cinematographer and digital media expert. He is a frequent contributor to The Broadcast Bridge.
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