Non-geeks prefer solid-state drives to cloud

Power, baby. Cool hardware, easy to use, instant on. Cloud just can't compete.

A survey of 10,000 customers published today by Paragon Software Group highlights two interesting things about hard-drive maintenance developers and their customers.

The first is that utility vendors know hard-drive maintenance sounds much less exciting than security, so they'll pitch HDD maintenance surveys as being about "personal data security" instead.

The second is that even consumers motivated enough to pay $49.95 for software to maintain their hard drives, partitions, backup and migrations don't pay much attention to any of those things.

The third, which Paragon didn't mean to confirm, is that consumers who buy disk-utility software may be doing it not to keep their existing hard drives healthy, but to help them move to a new generation of personal data storage.

According to Paragon's survey of users who recently bought one of its Hard Disk Manager products, two-thirds of consumers don't use any special tools or software to migrate from one hard drive (or PC) to another. Almost a quarter of those who did buy the utility, however, plan to move to a solid-state drive in the near future – a move that could go more smoothly automated by tools such as Paragon's.

Forty percent don't intend to use SSDs at all, which sounds high compared to the 23 percent who plan to do so.

Why are the least geekish users hot for SSDs?

Except that SSDs, which replace storage on hard drives with flash memory that is faster, uses less power and should theoretically have lower failure rates than spinning disks, is still so expensive, so unfamiliar to most users and so expensive compared to disk that even major solid-state memory makers such as SanDisk don't expect consumers to buy any more if it by 2015 than they do now.

NAND flash-drive revenues will grow eight percent this year and six percent next year, mainly through SSD sales to ultrabook and mobile-device makers according to a study by market analyst IHS, Inc.

SSD prices are still far too high – about $1.56 per gigabyte as of January, according to IDC – to attract many consumers, though SSD costs should drop below $1 per gigabyte this year, according to IDC analyst Jeff Janukowicz.

The level of interest in SSDs is likely because processors have taken such a leap in power and speed during the past couple of years that the delay from storage devices has become an increasingly more obvious problem according to Tom's Hardware reviewer Andrew Ku in the April, 2012 edition of Tom's Best SSDs for the Money.

Though not all the reliability and data-corruption problems that turned up last year have been solved prices as low as $1.04 per gigabyte will make SSDs much more attractive than previously, Wu wrote.

Analyses by Tom's and Data Center Knowledge concluded that SSDs are roughly as reliable as HDDs, but that SSDs suffer more from a common drawback: HDDs that fail for mechanical reasons usually provide a warning first. SSDs can only fail for electrical reasons. Neither SSDs nor HDDs provide any warning when they're about to fail for electrical reasons.

So, unlike the hard drive that whines for a month before crashing catastrophically, SSDs just quit, sustaining their reputation for being flaky and unreliable.

SSDs do have a sexiness factor that HDDs don't however. They're as easy as hard drives to install, behave almost exactly like a hard drive, but boost performance immediately, slash boot times (sometimes to as little as 20 seconds) and extend battery lives about 10 percent, according to Tom's.

Those are the kind of benefits consumers can see and appreciate.

They're also the kind that pass the RTM test: Any technology that requires users to read the manual in order to even get it running will scare off most of them.

Instant power and cool hardware are sexier than anything hidden in a cloud

That's probably why nearly one in four Paragon users plans to move to SSDs, but 58 percent don't use virtual or cloud storage, both of which offer more security, more stability and lower costs than SSDs.

Neither one makes a laptop boot faster on the commuter train, makes it run longer on cross-country flights or gives a big performance boos without having to install new memory or replace the whole laptop.

Virtual and cloud storage both require a little knowledge to get them working, though, or at least a comfort level high enough to know whether to sign up for extra space on Amazon or Google Drive – a simple enough question most non-geeks can answer only by cornering a geek and asking half an hour's worth of stoopid yooser questions.

Believe it or not, users don't like that experience, either. And home users, at least, obviously rate the personal cost of an extended conversation with a geek as higher than the buck- or buck-and-a-half per gigabyte they're willing to pay for SSD.

If you're a geek, thank your lucky stars. If you're a consumer, thank a geek. Just on general principles, if nothing else. They'll probably want to look at your new SSD anyway. Don't let them get too close; they drool around cool hardware.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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