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a simple list of military SSD companies

(how hard can it be to compile one?)

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - StorageSearch.com - April 15, 2016
Nearly everything I've written about the SSD market was written on the same day it was seen here. Indeed I upload most of my notes and comments to the web as I'm writing them - paragraph by paragraph - sometimes before reading back the complete text.

As this is the web - that doesn't present a clarity problem - because it's easy enough to add updates, cuts and corrections and additional links to articles anytime from seconds to years later - depending how popular the topic is. And - as you may have seen already in other pages - if later events have made a big impact on the original idea.

The only general exceptions to this writing habit of mine (till to now) have been:-
  • blogs started and abandoned on the same day (because I realized the original idea wasn't compelling enough), and
  • longer articles - which can take me one or two days elapsed time to write.
The blog here below is a rare exception to what I've just said above because I've always thought the subject matter - who designs and makes military SSDs? - was important - but this is the only SSD article which having been started, and intended for publication, has lingered in an incomplete state in the ftp out tray while I've continued to think about it from time to time over a long period.

What held me back from posting this blog before was that after exploring what I thought was a simple topic - which should've had a simple conclusion and left you with an easily defined bunch of associated links - developed - after much thinking about it - into something quite different which didn't feel like it had a proper ending.

But now - after looking back - I see that this aspect of the story (the lack of a tidy wrap up) may indeed be the most important aspect of the story. So here it is - warts and all.

a simple list of military SSD companies

For a year or so before publishing this article - I had the idea of compiling a simple list of military SSD companies here on StorageSearch.com to act as a pool for designers and specifiers of products involved in applications which needed militarized, tough and secure SSDs.

There was a part of me which naggingly said - why's it taking so long?

This should only take an hour or so - as you've already written about most of these companies and to compile the list all you need to do is datamine the past 15 or 20 years of writing about the SSD market - extract a list - and it's almost done.

But there was another voice in my head which said - what's the real purpose of doing this?

If it's not to be merely a search engine optimization (aimed at web bots) but is designed to be useful to real people - you have to do a better job than a mere cut and paste of past resources. And delays in getting started meant that I had to be clear about several factors in advance such as:-
  • how simple should a "simple" list be? - in a way which can still be useful but not be too misleading.

    Is a list of company names (without links) enough?

    How about adding links? If so - should the links be to the home page of the company or to their main mil product page or to a profile page which descrobes their company?

    In a simple list (whatever formula is adopted) is it "useful" to append tags or comments attached to each company name - based on what I know about each company? (For example list of interfaces, memory types used, customer stories etc.)

    Or are such tags misleading?

    Because such anecdotes - which might make the list more interesting to read - run the risk of being biased and disproportionate and inevitably drawing reader focus away from companies I know less well.
  • what kind of definition of "military SSD" should I use?

    Is the "military" nature of a mil SSD mostly about temperature? In that case where do you draw the line with industrial SSDs. And what about high temperature rated SSDs designed for pure scientific research which may lack required mil features?

    Or is a mil SSD mostly about security?

    The problem is that some secure SSDs designed for gaming or banking or medical uses don't fit the picture of a mil SSD.

    And what about enterprise accelerator SSDs which have been used for particular military applications - but which otherwise don't have any obvious military attributes?

    How important are serviceability attributes?

    You might see a new rugged, secure SSD appear on the market for an application like cameras - but then when you need it again you may not be able to buy the same product again as soon as 6-12 months later - because the camera market has moved on. So is the ability to have a defined BOM and longevity of supply something which is essential to the definition of mil SSD? And if so - is the 7 years or so which many industrial manufacturers offer reassuring enough for a market which typically looks at volume deployments starting years after initial design and spares requirements stretching to decades.

    In a random conversation about semiconductors I had in an airport queue yesterday (April 13, 2016) someone told me their company was still making EPROMs.
  • Supposing the filtering questions are resolved and we can agree what a military SSD company is... how far back in time should the list of such companies go? - especially given the longevity of military projects
in the simple list of companies - more clarification required concerning - what is simple?

Some of questions I looked at in designing this page were:-
  • should I just name the companies?
  • should it just be a list of urls?
  • is it useful to know where a company is headquartered?

    Geography is an essential hygiene factor for sourcing mil SSDs for obvious geopolitical reasons. And proximity facilitates on-site visits to review processes and conformity issues too.

    But - as we've seen in other parts of the SSD market - companies can suddenly change where their HQ is based due to organic growth or acquisition. So I took the view that geography is too impermanent an attribute for the "simple list" of mil SSD companies.
  • How committed are these companies to the mil SSD business?

    Should I insert a tag which indicates how long each company has been active in the military market?

    And how about estimating what percentage of their business is in that market?

    That seems like a deceptively obvious idea. A company which has been designing military SSDs for 10 years surely rates a different mention to another which has only been involved in the market for 2 years?

    But that signal can be misleading - because the new project you're designing prototypes for today might benefit from a new technology (or scaling density) which older companies don't yet supply.

    And what happens when a company which is new to the SSD market - but which is well funded - buys a long established SSD company? How much of the longevity (in the mil market) attribute should be inherited by the new owner in such a list? Clearly the idea of a scoring system like this is important - but best done by the customer rather than by a disconnected reviewer.
  • what about "gone away" military SSD companies - those which are no longer in the market because they're gone out of business, been acquired or exited the military market?

    In most other markets a list of current suppliers would benefit from excluding "gone away" companies.

    But sometimes it can be useful to know that a company (even if it no longer exists) did once have a standard product which solved a rare niche type of application - if you have a similar problem today.

    Maybe it's just knowing that someone in the past did solve that kind of problem so it should be feasible to solve again... Or maybe you need to track down what happened to an old company and see who owns it now because you need spares and are being presented with an uncomfortable cost option if you have to emulate an old product and over engineer it in the absence of original design details.
  • what about military systems integrators?

    System integration activities can cover a broad spectrum of technical interventions and the result is more questions than answers.

    For example - is the activity of installing an enterprise SSD array into a box which includes a DC power supply, with air filters, and anti-condensation and anti-fungus measures enough to place the integrator on such a list?

    Extrapolating from this shows the problem with this approach.

    Such a box can accommodate a wide variety of systems (servers and HDDs - not just SSDs.) So if we include this in a list of "military SSDs" what category should it be in?

    I think here the obvious answer is that the maker of such a box or the integrator is better placed in a directory of "military electronic packaging and enclosures" rather than a list of "military SSDs".

    Despite that line of thinking, however, the same manufacturers might feature in a military SSD news story from time to time - even if they don't score highly enough to appear in an SSD directory.

    But another awkward decision arises at the other end of the integration scale.

    Suppose you have a company which designs and makes its own SSDs for use in a range of integrated systems (in which the storage is simply a small but essential component). And what if - that SSD maker doesn't sell its SSDs except as spares or upgrades to users of the bigger system?

    If the purpose of the military SSD makers directory is to be a useful resource for wouldbe buyers of SSDs then probably that kind of company shouldn't be on such a list.

    But if the purpose of the military SSD makers directory is to be a useful resource for those wanting to understand where the hot spots are in SSD design (maybe with the view to a business partnership - supplying SSD related components to, competing with or investing in or acquiring such companies) then it would be useful to know that this type of company is in the military SSD business.
  • And what about those invisible mil SSD makers?

    There's an agency which has paid some contractors to develop a standard design platform which is useful for a lot of its SSD projects. It's simpler than many commercial designs and does the job well. It's like a COTS or "open standard" platform. But only this agency (or closely related partners) know about it and can use it. It's so secret that even mentioning the interfaces and applications publicly buys you swift entry to the kind of gated community where the doors are locked on the outside.

    Time served specialists in the mil SSD market know this agency and its platform because it has an influence on the applications which emerge for COTS aspects of some design projects.

    So any authoritative list of military SSD companies is incomplete without including the agency (which has a different name in different countries). But they don't want to be included in this type of list on the web (thanks for asking Mr Editor and BTW how did you get this email address?) as they're not looking for business.

    So how do we represent their influence in the list? Add more white spaces in the columns to indicate there are important gaps? If so - how many spaces?
If you're still with me at this point of the blog - you can see some of the potential incongruities and false signals which can creep into in any well intentioned simple list of "military SSD companies".

The more I thought about the processes of filtering and editing such a list the more I recognized that its usefulness could only be extremely limited and dependent on how compatible it was with the needs of the person who encountered it.

Maybe it's because of these difficulties (and I'm learning more) that my instinct has been to avoid publishing such a list in recent years.

Instead what I do is try to keep attuned to companies which may be involved in this type of product activity (which is any SSD company which has crossed my radar in the past 20 years) and when I learn something interesting which can be discussed in an SSD news context - then I write about them and put a note in their profile page. I admit that's not a fool-proof method but it avoids making a claim to completeness (such as "this list includes every known military SSD maker") which is doomed to fail.

As a long established publisher of buyers guides (long being 24 years so far) I think if you want readers to trust you - you have to know your own limits. So that's why I (still) haven't published a simple guide of military SSD manufacturers - despite knowing many companies which might easily qualify to be placed in such a list.

You can find a wide net of potential companies (from the StorageSearch.com news archive) by using site search and a suitable search filter such as "military SSD". But you'll have to do your own filtering and follow up on the linked-to web sites to confirm if they're still active in the market.

If you have views about this, or suggestion which you think other readers might find useful - email me - Zsolt@StorageSearch.com - and I'll consider adding them as an update to this article.
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comments - re a simple list of military SSD companies
from Peter Kindl - April 20, 2016

Hi Zsolt, I am getting an error message while trying to comment on LinkedIn. Here is what I was going to comment - always with a little grin in my face.

Welcome to the club - "just the two of us?"

Quite simple ;-)

- do a product list and categorize product by compliance with mil.-specs: environmental mil.-specs (8), mil.-secure erase options (10/11), - add optional parameters i. e. SLC vs MLC (1/2bit), power loss hold up time (not just power loss detection and protection (SW)), conformal coating?, full metal casing?, ...

The list won't be big if you only enter suppliers who can prove compliance by a formal test certificate.

Since 2006 my list only had "Zeus" (EOL) listed, which met all criteria!

My "supplier's marketing" version has approximately 40 entries - legacy industrial grade SSDs applicable for military / aerospace applications (w/o showing any mil. spec compliance in the data sheet!)

Maybe we should do a major military/defense application list, in order to understand the client's requirements, i. e. why some will only accept SLC, others consider MLC; why a military grade NAS uses commercial grade enterprise class SSDs, ...

BTW: I liked the "Zeus" with the military grade self-destruction feature the most, in particular the testing of that feature to prove that it works ;-D Peter Kindl



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Editor's comments:- In the enterprise and commercial markets too we're seeing similar attrition in the headcount of SSD controllers.

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