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FMJ Storage, founded in 2009, and headquartered in Woodinville, WA - designs "requirements driven SSD solutions".
.... FMJ logo

FMJ - mentions on,

What were the big SSD ideas to learn and forget in 2015?

Who's who in SSD? - getting to know a Full Metal Jacket SSD maker

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor -, March, 2014

I spoke recently to FMJ - a company which (in their own words and by their own choice) has - until recently - been flying "under the radar" (of general market scrutiny).

The company's focus is customers who have embedded applications in industrial, military and other critical markets in which the reliability of every single SSD matters.

In one of the 6 most fascinating conversations I've had in the past 18 months - about the reliability and memory technology roadmap aspects of SSDs (in the context of any market for SSDs and not just related to the industrial market) I learned some new things which it was good for me - and will be good for you to know.

Why is FMJ coming out now?

And what did I learn which surprised me?

Read on - to find out.

Here are some introductory bullet points about the company.
  • FMJ designs SSDs which can include MLC or SLC.
  • FMJ uses 2 main types of SSD controller:-

    • one of which is their own design (which they don't want to talk too much about - implemented by FPGA)

    • and the other - a merchant market controller - to they have earned the right to get special access from the original source - which enables them to integrate their own firmware and access different parts of the controller for various purposes (including power management) via normally restricted pins.
  • FMJ's founders John Conklin and Dave Merry have been in the flash SSD design business for over 20 years - and have been involved in some of the best known companies in the past history of this market.

    Despite that, however, FMJ has had to prove itself as a new company to its suppliers - to get the access it needs to qualify and characterize advanced emerging memory generations - and to get special access to modify controller functions.
  • FMJ has no outside investors and the company (at the time of writing this) is profitable.
  • "We do not want the customer to ever send back parts (SSDs) that don't work" said John Conklin, COO - FMJ. (who among other things a decade earlier co-founded SiliconSystems).

    The consequences of SSD failure in the service life of industrial and equipment applications can be a very high cost for customers - due to the lost utility of those systems, or the cost of the unique missing data, and also because of the high cost of sending engineers to possibly remote installations.

    Why so?

    That's because due to the physical constraints of embedded systems in which the dimensions of space, weight and power are all tightly bounded - the system design usually precludes the use of the kind of fault tolerant architectures seen in the enterprise.

    So when a single SSD fails - the whole system has failed too.

    And in this context - a small amount of data corruption - which might be recoverable by a request to retry - or which can be fixed by an at rest healing process in an enterprise market context - counts as a major systems failure in the industrial world. (That's because Superman doesn't swing around and fly back again just because you missed him flying past the window - the first time around. And BTW it's not just birds, planes and the superheroes we're capturing data about.)
Why is FMJ coming out now?

FMJ has already been designing and shipping industrial SSDs into the market for several years - so I asked - why is FMJ emerging from under the radar now?

(Having conceded that they had done a good job of that - as they had entirely evaded my attention up to the time they contacted me too.)

John Conklin told me that there were 2 main reasons:-

1 - they wanted to be sure that they had a bunch of proven products and technologies (which they felt they were able to develop outside the public gaze) and

2 - FMJ has found that even despite their long experience in the embedded industrial market - they keep coming across new applications which have never existed before. That suggests there are a lot of other designs being done for new SSD applications by companies which aren't the traditional companies or industries which are "known" to be SSD prospects - even by experienced SSD sales and marketing people. The only way to get into the awareness of this type of new customer - is to be more visible on the web.

(This is similar to the business development problem within the enterprise SSD market - which I have written about in my article about the size of the Dark Matter enterprise segment.)

not just the same old industrial SSD customers

To demonstrated the concept of entirely new applications and markets for industrial SSDs (some of which already have the potential to be good markets in their own right) FMJ gave me 2 examples of applications which come into this category.

At this point - I was able to surprise them - by saying that I had designed a platform for one of these applications myself - back in my pre-web career.

And I mentioned in outline one or two examples of new markets for for industrial SSDs which I've read about - which were new to FMJ.

All of which goes to prove the general point - that the potential applications for embedded industrial SSDs cover a much bigger area than ever before and the only way for SSD companies to learn about those new applications and new customers - is to learn new skills of being findable by potential customers on the web. - A necessary part of doing this is that SSD companies have to less secretive - and say much more about what they do - or don't do online - and why what they do is different. (This is something which many SSD companies still feel uncomfortable about - because it also educates their competitors.)

And another general point about the industrial SSD market - is that it's becoming increasingly specialized.

The days in which a single SSD company can play the lead role in markets as diverse as consumer, enterprise and industrial - may be coming to an end.

industrial SSD customers are becoming more focused and knowledgeable too.

And if a customer knows their project is at the edge of what SSD technology can reliably do - the fact that an SSD vendor is also a big player in unrelated markets - may count for very little.

re FMJ - an afterword on meaning

Editor:- A few days after publishing the above notes - I thought of another niggling little question - which I put to John Conklin.

"I forgot to ask – what does FMJ stand for? - is it full metal jacket?"

"Yes" - he replied.

Although that was trivial info compared to what I had learned before - it made me feel better - as I like to think that even simple things like product names might come from somewhere or have other meanings as you can see in my article - Inanimate Power, Speed and Strength Metaphors in SSD brands

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3D NAND flash challenges
an industry roundtable discussion
Editor:- February 6, 2014 - The best article I've yet seen about the practical implications of increasing the adoption of 3D NAND flash is this...

Experts At The Table: Commercial potential and production challenges for 3D NAND memory technology - published by Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design.

Among the many practical considerations discussed in this article was the question of - "how is the semi industry preparing for the transition to 3D memory?"

On the issue of scalability limits and market pacing - the article reveals that vertical scalability currently appears feasible in roadmaps upto about 100 cell stack layers.

But the rate of 2D shrinks in successive 3D designs will slow down from the recent historic average of 20% per generation to 5% - due to the problems of registration which accumulate as you add more layers. the article

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Naval Surface Warfare Center (Navy) has approved FMJ Enhanced Security Technology PCMCIA Cards for the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet a twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multi-role combat jet, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft.
FMJ customer news (March 2015)
Schneider adopts Everspin's MRAM
Editor:- February 18, 2016 - my inbox this morning included a press release from Schneider Electric (not a name anyone would associate with the SSD market) - but a nagging voice in my head said - it might be worth opening.

Sure enough a quick check on google confirmed my guess. Isn't that the name of the company which acquired a company I worked at a long time ago? (In 1980 I had an actual phy (non virtual) job in the programmable controller design group at a company called Square D.)

Back in the 1970s and early 80s industrial controller companies were at the forefront of figuring out ways to design reliable digital systems using whatever fancy new chips the semiconductor market was happy to toss at the world. (That was before the chip companies got seduced by the PC market - after which they cared even less about industrial applications.)

From what I can remember of those days (and wavering the warranty on my mushy organic carbon memory ECC) there seemed to be many examples of devices and circuit design techniques which worked perfectly OK in a computer - but which would die a swift death in a harsh industrial environment. And unlike the military market (which had similar environmental constraints) industrial equipment designers had to make things work within much smaller budgets.

Anyway - back to the present.

Everspin's MRAM is being included in a new generation of Modicon controllers. I find this interesting as it provides a vote of confidence in the rugged operational integrity of this newly viable memory technology.

See also:- 13 years of progress on "MRAM will soon replace flash", industrial SSDs, military SSDs
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how safe are your assumptions about SLC?
Editor:- March 14, 2014 - SLC is regarded as the "gold standard" in nand flash memory today when it comes to SSD endurance.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say - "SLC is the depleted uranium standard" when it comes to choosing ingredients for hardening the SSD data integrity sandwich.

So you can imagine my surprise- when in a recent conversation about the reliability aspects of SSDs - I was told about some unique and proprietary "brutal and awkward test patterns" - which had uncovered design flaws in a new type of SLC memory while it was being characterized for use in SSDs.

This indicated that SSDs designed using that memory in some applications could be killed in as little as 3 to 9 months of use.

This design vulnerability never showed up at all in the "standard" SSD controller test patterns which are used throughout the industry. And their application wasn't for an SSD accelerator - but for a regular speed SSD.

From the customer point of view - if you want an embedded SSD which you can rely on - it's nice to know that some people still design SSDs the old fashioned way - and test every assumption along the way.

That was just one of many new things I learned talking to Dave Merry and John Conklin co-founders of a new SSD company called FMJ Storage - which has - for the past several years been operating profitably while under the general market radar.
FMJ - re SLC, MLC and 3D
Editor:- March 17, 2014 - Trying to make sense of the changing patterns of memory usage in SSDs and guessing which way things are likely to go - is something which all SSD designers and specifiers think about.

But because of the unusually long timescales for compatible product availability in the embedded industrial markets - which start at 7 years typical in-service life - added to the extended temperature operating range (compared to other markets) means that the the game of "guess what flash memory will still be availabile roadmap" is different in character.

I was fortunate to get a personal view on the long term SLC and MLC questions - as they relate to the industrial market - from one of the most experienced people in this industry - Dave Merry - whose SSD career (as VP of Engineering, CTO or cofounder) has spanned some of SSD history's best known industrial SSD companies - SiliconTech (which later became SimpleTech and then STEC), SMART Modular and SiliconSystems.

It was in a recent conversation with Dave at his present company - FMJ Storage that I got to ask these questions.

re SLC

Zsolt - How long do you think will SLC continue to be available?

Dave - Micron has said it will continue to provide SLC for some government projects for 15 to 20 years.

Zsolt - I didn't know that.

re MLC

Zsolt - Wer're seeing a lot of complicated controller technologies being used to make MLC usable and improve endurance. How do you see MLC going?

Dave - We have to keep abreast of all technologies - and have had early access to 3D nand. Our characterization suggests that the endurance of 3D nand is 3x to 4x better than MLC (at similar line widths). So that makes 3D a good place to look at for a long term MLC industrial roadmap. But it's too early to know if the 3D layout and architecture itself might have its own (currently unknown) new failure mechanisms or R/W disturbance sensitivities - which would require new firmware techniques.

To be? or Not to be?

hold up capacitors in 2.5" MIL SSDs
looking into the extremes in the market
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