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industrial SSDs

see also:- industrial SSDs - editor mentions on this site

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the changing face of the industrial SSD market

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor
One of the oldest markets for flash SSDs is the embedded industrial market - where rugged flash SSDs have been used since the mid 1990s.

Some of the pioneering companies which shipped those early industrial flash drives are still in the market today. And you could say that the industrial SSD market has remained a constant factor in the fast changing world of the SSD market. But during the past 5 years - the vendor definitions of what makes an "industrial grade SSD" - have changed. Buyer assumptions which were once safe and universal - can no longer be taken for granted.

Some assumptions have stayed the same.

These are:-
  • standard operating temperature range - from -40C to +85C. (Note - some vendors offer an extended range - from -45C upto 90C too.)
  • rugged operation:- industrial SSDs must be capable of operating and surviving in a range of vibration conditions typically found in vehicles - and sometimes upto specific MIL standards.
  • reliability considerations:- unlike the enterprise server SSD environment (in which individual disks can be backed up, RAIDed or repaired) and unlike the notebook SSD environment (in which flaky firmware can be fixed by downloads and reboots) - reliability and stability constraints on industrial SSDs are much higher. In many embedded applications the assumption is that the SSD lifetime is the same as the equipment life. Industrial SSDs have to be "fit and forget".
  • electrical power:- industrial SSDs are available with a vast range of power consumption envelopes (more than 20 to 1) - and in many applications the SSD wattage is a key starting point for selecting a product.

    Industrial SSDs need more complex designs to protect data integrity when there is a sudden power loss - because they are used in a wider range of power supply systems than typical computer systems.
  • physical size:- if it doesn't fit in the space then it can't be used. That's one reason why industrial SSDs are available in very small form factors - which I've lumped together in the 1 inch SSD directory.
  • OS driver support:- industrial SSDs have to support operating systems which are additional to those used in the computer market - such as real-time OS's
  • EOL (end of life) issues. Companies which use industrial SSDs for use in equipment and embedded systems need to be confident that they can continue obtaining these products during the lifetime of their programs - which are typically 3 to 5 - but can also be more than 7 years (see article below). That's dramatically different to the consumer and enterprise SSD markets where product lifetimes are typically in the range 6 to 24 months.

    The reason is that industrial SSD customers want to minimize the amortized costs of requalifying new products and doing redesigns in what are typically low volume markets. Consequently industrial SSD companies have to manage their technology roadmaps and customer service interfaces in a different way to computer market SSD makers. This is similar to the requirements in the military market.
Subtle feature creep divergence has crept into the industrial SSD market in the past 5 years as its needs have grown apart from the military storage market. There used to be nearly 100% overlap between companies which marketed industrial SSDs and military SSDs - and the main differences between many industrial / military product lines used to be in their operating temperature range and testing processes. That's no longer the case. The differences have widened due to memory usage (true mil SSDs only use SLC flash) and the need for fast purge in military SSDs.

Some important assumptions in industrial SSD product families have changed since this market began.
  • use of MLC flash memory. Not that long ago - it would have been unthinkable for industrial SSDs to be offered with anything other than SLC flash memory. The industrial SSD market was slower in moving to an MLC permissive market than the enterprise SSD market because of the need to qualify other associated components - not just the flash chips - over the wider temperature range.
  • Integrating SMART-like controller metrics back into the equipment design loop. Most industrial SSD makers offer tools to help equipment designers understand - the on-board SMART-like data collection features in their SSD controllers - and how use this info to model system life.
  • Performance. Until recently - the fastest industrial SSDs used to lag 3 years or so behind similar form factor SSDs in the computer market. Not anymore. They are now available with speeds which are similar.
  • Encryption and security. The range of security options and the associated economics in the industrial SSD market are as diverse as the markets in which they are used. For example the storage zones which hold the programs and other critical data can made unreadable outside of defined conditions to prevent competitors reverse analyzing the design.
  • Industrial SSDs used to be replacements for hard drives. But in new designs we're seeing embedded SSDs replacing functions which were once done by vanilla flash memory. Why's that? It's because when memory capacity gets above a certain size - then the only reliable way to manage it is with SSD-like controller technology. So designs which once used bunches of flash chips are morphing into slots for low end SSDs - simply as a pragmatic way of using flash without equipment designers needing to peek inside unreliable flash chips.
How does the industrial SSD market compare in size and importance to other segments in the SSD market?

Industrial SSDs are 1 of the 5 main SSD user value proposition groups described in StorageSearch.com's SSD market penetration model. But this isn't a market which shouts loudly about the latest technology fashions. And it's fair to say that because of the conservative and largely hidden nature of the market - it rarely grabs the storage news headlines. But the industrial SSD market has great potential. One SSD analyst - Web-Feet Research - said recently they thought that "the embedded flash drive market would approach $17 billion annual revenue in 2015."

To find related companies, products and related articles - see the list at the top right of this page.

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classic SSDs from SSD market history
1.0" 2.5" 3.5" reliable industrial flash SSDs from Hagiwara Sys-Com
1.0" / 1.8" / 2.5" / 3.5" industrial flash SSDs
from Hagiwara Sys-Com
A classic range of embedded and industrial SSDs - circa 2008 to 2010
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What's the best way to design a flash SSD?
and other questions which divide SSD opinion

More than 10 key areas of fundamental disagreement within the SSD industry are discussed in an article here on StorageSearch.com called the the SSD Heresies.
click to read the article - the SSD Heresies ... Why can't SSD's true believers agree upon a single coherent vision for the future of solid state storage? ...read the article
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Fast Purge SSDs
The need for fast and secure data erase - in which vital parts of a flash SSD or its data are destroyed in seconds - has always been a requirement in military projects.

Fast Purge flash SSDs directory & articlesAlthough many industrial SSD vendors offer products with extended "rugged" operating environment capabilities - and even notebooks SSDs come with encryption - it's the availability of fast data purge which differentiates "truly secure" SSDs which can be deployed in sensitive applications.
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Megabyte hammers the  storage barrel into shape - image for industrial SSDs article
If they survive manufacturing
they'll survive customers too.

SSD news
military SSDs
SSD controllers
fast purge / secure erase SSDs
What is Industrial Grade eMMC? - blog by Datalight
Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Adaptive DSP care IP in flash SSDs
Efficiency - making the same SSD - with less chips
SSD endurance myths and legends - the saga continues in 3D
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Over 50 companies design industrial SSDs including:-
AMP

Apacer

APRO

BiTMICRO

Biwin

Cactus Technologies

CoreRise

CoreSolidStorage

Emphas

FMJ

Foremay

Greenliant Systems

Hagiwara Sys-Com

InnoDisk

KingFast

MagicRAM

Memoright

Microsemi

PCcardsDirect

Red Rock Technologies

Renice

RunCore

SMART

STEC

Viking

Virtium

WD (eol)

For more industrial SSD vendors look here:-

1" SSDs, 1.8" SSDs, 2.5" SSDs,
PATA SSDs, SATA SSDs, SCSI SSDs
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Virtium  SSDs - click for more info
industrial SATA SSDs
efficiently matched to embedded needs
StorFly – from Virtium
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"People look at retail ads for microSD cards and see a 4GB card for ~$5, whereas an industrial grade part is many times that amount.

"Many, younger designers (and older ones too) think you are trying to pull a fast one on them because the parts look identical and function in the same socket."
Steve Larrivee, Cactus Technologies in reply to a question about SSD education - and the differences between SLC and MLC for embedded industrial projects - (April 8, 2014)
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the long term future for industrial flash?
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.

Editor's comments:- Our conversation about the SSD market lasted 2 hours. I'll be writing more about it in another article.

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"CFast is the easy choice for systems that require eject-ability and small size and 1.8 SATA would be good for larger systems with higher capacity requirements."
embedded SSD form factors - overview and choices - a blog by Virtium - (January 2014 )

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new report on embedded flash drives market
Editor:- February 20, 2013 - Web-Feet Research expects revenue in the embedded flash drive market to reach $15 billion in 2017 - "driven heavily by mobile handsets, tablets, portable media players, digital camcorders, GPS, digital radio along with the adoption of flash cache in notebook and desktop PCs."

In this context EFDs and cards are defined as sub-systems of solid state storage ranked below SSD.

The company recently published a new report Embedded Flash Drives, eMMC and emNAND: 2010-2017 (134 pages, $5.5K) which includes forecasts for EFD applications and related markets.
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does SLC still rule in industrial SSDs?
Editor:- May 3, 2012 - I've been talking this week to a reader who has been looking for high capacity industrial 2.5" MLC SSDs for a project which - because of where it's used - really does need the full industrial temperature range.

He said he'd been having difficulties. Anyway I suggested he look at the industrial SSD directory (this page) and contact all the companies to see who did have such a product and after a lot of work he has found some possible suppliers - but the success rate comes out as about 20% - or 1 in 5 industrial SSD oems actually having a useful MLC product in this category. So this is still a part of the SSD market where SLC reigns supreme - regardless of what you hear about in the server and consumer markets. (And the other SLC SSD bastion is military.)

I said - I think that one of the problems in finding cheaper MLC SSDs for industrial temperature apps is that the few companies who really have the IP to be able to design such a product from the controller stance - mostly pursue bigger markets - like consumer. And even if the consumer guys do have the controller technology for extended temperature MLC - they don't cope well with other factors - like surviving SSD sudden power loss. But it's good to know that some companies can do it - even if it's less than you would expect.

A few hours after posting the above - I got this helfpful comment from another reader (on a different continent)...

Peter Kindl, Managing Director at Solid State Storage Consulting in Germany emailed me to say -

Hi Zsolt, I'd like to comment on your today's news "SLC still rules in industrial SSDs" and your article about industrial grade SSDs.

The most critical criteria for industrial clients is neither of technological nor technical nature, but a process management topic: industrial clients expect a true fixed BOM management by the supplier, in order to get exactly the same product, that they had qualified for their system.

Fixed BOM has become a sales & marketing argument and is being misused. Many suppliers allow "minor" changes, i. e. F/W updates or even dye changes under their "fixed BOM" definition, which can cause severe integration issues at the client's site.

Digging deeper into that subject, fixed BOM suddenly turns out to be marketed the same as so called controlled BOM for certain suppliers, whose core business is still the commercial or client SSD market.

In addition, it's my experience, having been in that market since 2005, that the typical life time expectation for SSD product is closer to 7+ years - at least with most German industrial clients (telecom, IPC and industrial automation). And in many cases, you start the evaluation with a current product generation, that will be almost EOL by the time the client has finished his qualification.

Therefore, sharing the product roadmap and migration plan becomes an important issue, in order to minimize re-qualification cost. This is also becoming a major challenge as most Asian suppliers are hesitant to even talk about current technological matters like NAND flash supplier and lithography being used in the product as well as the NAND flash controller manufacturer.

The top tier industrial clients in Central Europe have a certain expectation by history of the past 5-8 years and new comers don't seem to understand the market requirements when they enter that market. At this year's Embedded World in Nuremberg, Germany it became very obvious, that many new and "old" suppliers (Kingston!?) want to get a decent piece of that tasty cake.

Best regards - and keep up the good work at storagesearch.com
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Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. ...read the article
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