For laptop owners, flash-memory drives boost battery life and performance while making notebooks lighter and more bearable for frequent business travelers. In the data center, benefits include higher reliability than their magnetic counterparts, lower cooling requirements and better performance for applications that require random access such as e-mail servers.

So far, the biggest barriers to adopting solid-state drives (SSD) in the data center have been price and capacity. Hard disk drives (HDD) are much less expensive and hold much more information. For example, a server-based HDD costs just $1 to $2 per gigabyte, while SSD costs from $15 to $90 per gigabyte, according to IDC.

Capacities are just as disparate. The Samsung SSD drive only holds 64GB, although the company plans to release a new 128GB version next year. Meanwhile, Hitachi America Ltd. makes a 1TB HDD that's energy efficient and priced at $399 for mass deployment in servers.

Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. analyst Mark D. Peters explains that solid-state technology has been on the radar for years, but has not been a "slam-dunk" in terms of price and performance for corporate managers. That's about to change, he says, because the IOPS (input/output operations per second) benefits to SSDs are too impressive to ignore. Advantages include how SSD has no moving parts, lasts longer, runs faster and is more energy efficient than an HDD.

And prices are falling fast. Right now, the industry trend is a 40 percent to 50 percent drop in SSD pricing per year, according to Samsung.

The arrival of hybrid drives such as Samsung's ReadyDrives -- which use both SSD and HDD technology -- and SSD-only servers "suggests the time for SSD as a genuine -- and growing -- viable option is getting closer," says Peters. He was referring to the recent IBM announcement about BladeCenter servers that use a SSD.

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