From Aug. 2005 until Feb. 2013 I worked full-time in various Information Technology positions. As such I had access to robust computing equipment and frequent upgrades. When I became a full-time pastor in 2013, those benefits of working in IT became significantly less available. What does that mean? On a practical level, that I’m still using the same laptop I had three years ago – even though that is way beyond my usual “upgrade cycle” historically.

OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.
OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.

So, what does one do when its time to upgrade one’s workstation but you don’t want to spend the money to purchase an entirely new system? In the past my answer would be “upgrade the RAM” but now it is “maybe upgrade the RAM and definitely go to a SSD hard drive.”

See, most computers I buy these days come with a decent bit of RAM – 4 GB or more. For the average user, you aren’t going to see a “big” performance boost adding RAM above 2 GB or 4 GB to your system…at least, the performance boost becomes less with each additional upgrade.

Replace a standard “mechanical” hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD) though and you will see an huge performance difference. I’d probably have broken down and bought a new machine by now if I hadn’t bought and installed an SSD drive for this laptop in January before I left Cairn University.

The SSD drive took my boot time down from several minutes to under a minute (and I have a pretty heavy load of stuff on my system, many individuals doing lighter work might see load times around thirty seconds). It also makes system performance overall much more snappy – especially anything that involves reading/writing data from the hard drive (aka, almost everything).

I won’t go into all the details of why a SSD is better than a traditional hard drive – you can check out Storage Review’s article on this topic if you are interested in the details.

For those who are interested, I purchased my SSD via Amazon, specifically the OCZ Technology 128 GB Vertex 4 Series SATA drive (cost currently: $130). I couldn’t be happier with it.

I chose the Vertex 4 because (a) it was compatible with my laptop, (b) the drive has massively positive reviews from hundreds of customers, and (c) it comes with a 5-year warranty.

You’ll notice that the price is significantly more than for a traditional hard drive (HDD), but the price is worth it. Still, one will want to avoid buying too much disk space and wasting money – that is why I went with a 128 GB drive. I wouldn’t go smaller than that, unless all you do is browse the internet – and I wouldn’t go larger than that unless you really need the extra space.

If you do need the extra space, you might want to look at a second internal hard drive (this is usually possible with desktops, only a few laptops include this feature) or an external hard drive (this will work with desktops and laptops) or a cloud drive (e.g. from Google, Microsoft, SugarSync, Dropbox, etc.).

One final important note: It has always been critical to backup your data. I can’t tell you the number of individuals and businesses I know that have lost significant amounts of critical data due to hard drive failures. This problem is only exasperated with SSD drives, which tend to be harder to recover data from than their HDD equivalents.

Gary Orenstein on the future of storage (as dictated by VMWare).

Image representing VMware
Image via CrunchBase

Gary Orenstein1Where do I know this name from? Ahhh. Gary used to be with Gear6 when I launched (unsuccessfully) Informed Networker. writes for GigaOm a fascinating article (okay, okay, maybe only fascinating for those of us in the IT field) about VMWare‘s move towards virtualization of the storage arena in a similarly disruptive manner to its virtualization of server processing resources.

It turned my head when I read about VMWare’s release of the Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) along with vSphere 5, though I didn’t catch the irony Gary highlights in VMWare (an EMC owned company which is heavily invested in the storage industry) moving to disrupt the storage industry.2I once considered purchasing an EMC storage unit, but at the time the price was $50k-$60k for 5 TB of storage. Even after they offered to drop the price precipitously I went with Dell and HP direct attached storage for a fraction of the cost…and in spite of the rumors, one can scale direct attached storage fairly easily to 80 TB – 100 TB…at least that is as far as I went…

The functionality that VMWare is offering in the Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) isn’t anything new – other companies (e.g. Openfiler, Seanodes, FalconStor, and DataCore3There are others…I simply can’t recall their names at the moment.) have been offering similar functionality for quite some time…the difference is in the brand awareness surrounding VMWare and the close integration between VMWare’s processing virtualization and now storage virtualization. Additionally, VMWare will be hitting the small/mid-business market where many solutions in this  arena have had fairly high entry level costs traditionally (e.g. $15k+).

That said, I’m not a huge fan of VMWare (even though I use them). I think their pricing model is out-of-touch with the market and I keep expecting them to lower it. How can they continue to charge so exorbitantly for virtualization when other vendors (including Microsoft) are virtually (or actually) giving it away? I’m also not a huge fan of EMC – my past experience has been that they somehow (as many large companies do) manage to charge high prices for decent products (perhaps on the back of name recognition?). This has been true with EMC’s storage units and with Mozy once that company was acquired by EMC and seems to be true now of VMWare.

I am optimistic that storage virtualization of this sort will move forward…though I am hopeful someone else will step up to the plate, as unless VMWare changes its practices, I don’t want to be paying the VMWare tax for the next few generations4In expedited computing terms, I probably mean 5 years…as iterations occur much more expediently in IT than traditionally.