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MLC seniors live longer in my SSD care home

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor -May 17, 2012

The new fad in selling flash SSDs is life assurance and health care claims - as in "my flash SSD care scheme is 100x better (than all the others)."


Why do some people live longer than others?

You may have already given this subject some thought. But how would you go about explaining it? There are lots of different places where you can begin.

Genes! - is one answer. Now most of us don't know exactly what a gene is - but "genes" is a kind of shorthand way to say - it depends on how good was the body you were born with.

If you come from a long lived family, have grown up healthy and look like you're 20 when you're already pushing 50 - then genes may have something to do with it... Yeah I know what you're thinking but we're not going into those other bitchy explanations. It all looks so natural in this light - you would never know.... Darling! - if I spent so much on my wardrobe I could look 10 years younger too... etc... We're trying to have a serious discussion here. Let's get on with it.

Diet and lifestyle - are other things you can toss into the longevity mix. This is asking - How well did you treat that body you started with?

We all know (or think we know) that drinking a bottle of vodka every day might reduce your prospects. And maybe smoking 200 cigarettes a day should have the same negative effect too. But then we heard the story about that Russian peasant who's been living in the mountains on a diet of vodka, cigarettes and freeze dried goat - who sneaked down to the village to ask if it was safe to move back.

Is Lenin dead yet? - he asked. He had been asking that very same question every Spring for over 90 years - but the answer he got was always "no". He was smelly and wanted by some bad guys. The villagers didn't want him hanging around.

Then last Monday a film crew from RT came into the village to do a news filler spot in their series about quaint old folk customs in the regions of Russia and how tasty it is to eat the honey straight from the hive etc. Smelly guy asks the cameraman - Is Lenin dead yet?

These are the moments which make amazing tv.

Hey - great accent! - swing the mike off those folk dancers and point it here. Now good sir - what was that you were asking again? Can you repeat it please - exactly how you said it before - and just pretend the camera isn't here.

Turns out smelly guy is a tv natural. He was a major in the white army in the civil war - that's why he was asking about Lenin. Unlike you - the RT crew don't have to look up wikipedia to estimate that smelly guy is probably more than 140 years old. What a sensation! This will bring the tourists in.

And suddenly pharma companies all over the world are revealing that they are doing R&D to capture the essence of freeze dried goat. Was it something about the air in those hills after the goat died? Or is it the uv at those altitudes curing the meat in a special way? Do the goats have to drink vodka? These intriguing questions will be answered much later when the patents are applied for.

Until then we have to rely on blogs for theories. Someone has already registered the domain name - livelongbyeatingvodkaflavoredgoatyoghurt.com

How long before we get to clinical trials?

A spokesperson for a chain of health gyms says - maybe it was running up and down the hills all those years that helped smelly guy live so long. What do sports jocks know? It was only once a year! Anyway - who cares about that theory - you can't put running in a bottle.

Smelly man is going to shake hands with Putin in a few days. But needs a bath first. (A US pharma company has already offered the Moscow hotel a bribe to get an exclusive sample of the bathwater for analysis. Luckily the baths in this 5 star hotel are big enough to ensure that every company who gets the same exclusive offer - will be satisfied with the quantity of water they get.)

There are multi-zillion dollar industries built around the premise that you take take almost any body and make it healthier (live longer) if only you eat or drink the right stuff, exercise etc. But which formula is best?

Then there is fate - because stuff happens.

We couldn't help smiling a little when we heard the tragic story about the billionaire health gene guru who was going to prove to the world that his lifestyle plan and vegeDNA pills would add 20 years to everyone's life - even if you only started the program in your mid 50s. If he was a relative of yours - then we've very sorry for your loss.

Following the IPO of his company he said he would take a sabbatical month away in some remote island so he could think about how to take the business to the next level.

Who could have imagined that watching whales from the comfort of your own floating fruit cocktail palace could be so dangerous!

The tv news people spent 15 minutes talking about how freaky it was that the backup support vessel got smashed up too. And we were told in school that whales don't eat meat! Until this previously undiscovered species of super killer whales that everybody thought had become extinct millions of years ago came along - that is.

What do you suppose they put in gene guru guy's coffin? I heard it was definitely him - they found his watch inside the fish. Well - who knows if this kind of whale is a mammal or not? Maybe they'll give it a special name. It is a shame though that with all those billions - and the prospect of living forever - he never got to spend his money on enjoyable things like eating chocolate. And he was so good looking too.

So what has this got to do with flash management and SSDs?

Everything I've said above about humans goes for flash memory too - when we pose the question of - How long will this new SSD last?

Genetics, lifestyle and luck (in humans) can be transposed to memory type, controller IP and fault tolerance (in flash SSDs).

These issues have always been around - and you might ask - what's new?

The stakes are much higher today than before - because selling those SSD health plans is a big multi-billion dollar business.

How it used to be...

When SiliconSystems (now WD) published their (April 2005) whitepaper - Increasing Flash SSD Reliability - here on StorageSearch.com which described why their own special way of managing flash gave 100x better results than no wear leveling and 4x longer life than conventional dynamic wear leveling - they didn't send out thousands of press releases saying how clever they were, and they didn't create 8 minute presentations on YouTube either. (OK - the article was published 10 days before YouTube was switched on - but you know what I'm getting at).

Back in 2005 there weren't so many people who worried enough about what happens inside SSDs to scrutinize the subject of reliability at this level of detail. Only 7,500 people read the SSD wear leveling article in the first year of publication (that was 1% of our readers at that time). In those days if an SSD maker said their SSD was reliable - you believed it. And there weren't so many to choose from.

But the market has moved from - who cares? - to you care about the identity of the controller inside SSDs - because it's not just the users but the VCs and investors in SSD companies who get affected too.

That's why - fast forwarding to today - I wouldn't be surprised to learn that over 1,000 web sites have picked up a new press release which says something like - "company X's SSD controller design is so good that they can make cheap flash last Nx longer!"

A year ago I said to the marketing guys at STEC - you'd better do something soon to talk more about about your CellCare technology - because there's a growing hunger for this kind of information. But I also warned that it could turn into a kind of marketing pissing war - in which multiple vendors would claim theirs would go the furthest.

That's where the SSD market is now.

A lot of people are interested in knowing how the magic ingredients inside the SSD cola work. Unlike 7 years ago when most of the people reading that kind of stuff were already electronic engineers and the technology descriptions had a fair chance of being understood - the situation today is that SSD specifiers are having to make judgements about complex physical processes and their effect on applications architecture based on techniques which vendors won't reveal - and even if they did - most customers wouldn't understand.

This is akin to deciding - which is the cleverest angel on this pinhead?

Can you see her? I thought it was a him. How do you tell with angels anyway? Get some new glasses.

Should you choose an SSD because the company which designed the controller has clever engineers?

What does clever SSD design mean anyway? Is clever enough last year - still clever enough this year? And what about the next time I need an SSD? Are these guys going to stay at the head of the class?

Or should you buy an SSD because the company who makes it has the cleverest marketers? - They make it easy for you to do business with them and you like their price... But what if it goes wrong?

It's all those kinds of tricky questions which make the SSD market so interesting.

And why didn't I post every single news story about (fill in your own name) SSD company who said today or yesterday that our flash technology makes the SSD endurance Nx longer?

Going back to where I started this blog - on the subject of how long do people live? Most of us today on average will probably live longer than cave men. (Apart from being stamped on by mammoths or being swallowed by killer whales etc...) How reliable is that statement? We can't go back in time to verify it. And even if we could - then we'd have to teach the cave people how to count. But the life insurance business today is more developed than in Neanderthal days - so there must have been some kind of improvement.

And in case you were wondering about the mystery of how flash endurance is one number in Texas and then gets converted to being a much bigger number in Kansas - even when it's exactly the same raw flash memory we're starting with here - and we're still in the kind of physics where time doesn't get twisty just because you've moved to a different marketing HQ ...

The answer lies in what I decided to call (in 2011) the new SSD uncertainty principle. Because like lifestyle and diet in humans - flash SSD life depends on how the flash is treated during its life.

The lower fiigure - which is used in these comparisons comes originally from the memory makers who offer you life insurance based on some very old ideas of how you will interact with their flash.

The higher figure - used in these comparisons done by the clever SSD controller IP company - say this is the life which the flash population will enjoy in our own state of the art health farm.

The inference you're supposed to draw is that the clever guys' SSDs are cheaper (as well as being more reliable) because they make a good enough SSD from cheap memory. But designing those clever controllers costs money too and somehow this all has to be paid for. So the total SSD price may or may not be much different to another less clever controller using more expensive memory.

And here's a weird thing about acronyms. TLC can mean "triple level cell" flash - aka "x3". But TLC can also mean "tender loving care".
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