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Data Recovery for flash SSDs?

It's 2014 - but as I warned 7 years ago in 2007 (at the bottom of this page) don't count on always being able to recover data from a failed flash SSD.

Warning to readers! Anyone can in a few hours create a plausible looking website which claims their company can perform data recovery on flash SSDs.

Many of the sites I've seen in this market segment make claims which are unsupportable and few of the so-called SSD recovery companies I've queried in this market have any clear idea of the complexity of the task involved.

Many SSD failures are in fact unrecoverable - because if the remapping tables get trashed - the media data is effectively randomized - and mixed up with blocks which were marked as corrupted and unusable even before the SSD failed. Worse still if the SSD is encrypted.

My advice at this stage in the SSD market expansion is to look at data recovery information on your SSD vendor's original site and (mostly) disregard any data recovery sites you may see which have been in operation for less than 5 years. You can verify age and content using the internet archive.

The best advice I can give is - do your best to minimize the risk of needing data recovery in the first place.

Do regular backups - using multiple backup media - onsite and offsite.

SSD company attitutudes can increase data recovery costs

Editor:- March 20, 2014 - Tom Coughlin, President Coughlin Associates has written a new blog - New Tools Will Reduce The Costs of SSD Data Recovery.

Commenting on the 5x higher relative cost of SSD recovery in situations where the DR company has to do in its own research to understand the distribution of the data - Tom says...

"Self-encrypted storage devices are a valuable method to protect consumer data and privacy but they can also prevent recovering that data if parts of the SSD become corrupted. There needs to be a greater degree of cooperation between the SSD manufacturers and legitimate data recovery companies to make recovering data for an SSD customer easier, while maintaining protection of SSD company intellectual property." ...read the article


SSDs or hard drives? - the data forensics differences

Editor:- October 23, 2012 - When you need to retrieve critical unbacked up data from a damaged notebook (which you left in the car when you clambered out the window after realizing that the puddle across the road was much deeper than you first thought) you call the process "data recovery" - but when a court seizes a suspect's notebook to try and retrieve data which may have been deliberately "deleted" - they call it "data forensics" - either way - in the most demanding cases the experts who work on these tasks are the same.

SSD Data Recovery (as opposed to dumb flash memory recovery) is a relatively new market which didn't exist 5 years ago.

A recent article Why SSD Drives Destroy Court Evidence - on a site called ForensicFocus.com - discusses how techniques which are essential to the operation of flash SSDs (such as garbage collection and wear leveling) mean that from the forensic viewpoint SSDs yield up potentially much less deliberately deleted recoverable data than hard drives.


adaptive R/W poses new complexities for independent SSD data recovery

Editor:-October 22, 2012 - Earlier this year I wrote an article about adaptive R/W and DSP ECC flash techniques - an important new set of technologies working its way into all SSD markets (except hard military).

The new technology can improve speed, power consumption, data integrity and endurance in standard MLC flash SSDs - and adaptive R/W DSP techniques are an essential prerequisitie for designing reliable TLC (x3) SSDs and all future generations of flash SSDs.

One of the characteristics of adaptive DSP is that the ECC coding and even the size of raw data blocks within the same SSD vary. But the IP set - which lies behind these technologies is extremely valuable, tightly controlled and the subject of hundreds of patents.

Where am I going with this?

I think - at this time- data recovery of SSDs which use adaptive R/W is only feasible by the original manufacturers of the SSDs. It will be impossible for independent data recovery companies to reverse analyse the data - because the exact pattern of coding in the flash translation layer is unique to each SSD and is a mixture of many different coding schemes.


high availability / fault tolerant enterprise SSD arrays

Editor:- January 26, 2012 - due to the growing number of oems in the high availability rackmount SSD market StorageSearch.com today published a new directory focusing on HA / FT enterprise SSD arrays.

The new directory will make it easier for users to locate specialist HA SSD vendors, related news and articles.

If you're a marketer in an SSD company, not listed in the preliminary vendor listing on this page below, and you haven't contacted me in the past few weeks about your HA SSD systems - then contact me with details.


SandForce names trusted partner for SSD data recovery

Editor:- May 5, 2011 - SandForce today named DriveSavers as a member of its trusted partners program.

"DriveSavers was our first choice to expand the SandForce Trusted program to include data recovery services," said Kent Smith, Senior Director of Product Marketing for SandForce. "While SandForce SSD Processors eliminate the most common data loss scenarios through DuraClass NAND flash management features, DriveSavers can provide the SSD a safety net should the unexpected SSD failure happen and data loss occurs."

Editor's comments:- although many data recovery companies have developed techniques to deal with SSDs - some SSDs are difficult or impossible to recover without the support of the original controller company. This is a significant announcement because it makes SandForce SSDs more attractive in consumer markets. Over 90% of consumers don't do reliable backups.


new article - SSD Data Recovery Concepts and Technologies

Editor:- December 1, 2010 - StorageSearch.com today published a new article - Introduction to SSD Data Recovery Concepts and Technologies - written by Jeremy Brock, President, A+ Perfect Computers.

It's hard enough understanding the design of any single SSD. And there are so many different designs in the market.

If you've ever wondered what it looks like at the other end of the SSD supply chain - when a user has a damaged SSD which contains priceless data with no usable backup - this article - written by one of a rare new breed of SSD recovery experts will give you some idea. I've waited more than 3 years to find someone to write an article on this subject for you. And now it's only a click away - read the article


bad block management in flash SSDs

Editor:- November 26, 2010 - StorageSearch.com today published a new article - principles of bad block management in flash SSDs.

It's a non technical introduction to the thinking behind one of the many vital functions inside a flash SSD controller. The new article - started out life this morning as a long email reply to one of my readers with whom I have been discussing various aspects of SSD data recovery. ...read the article


Hyperstone will use Toshiba tech in new SSD controllers

Editor:- October 12, 2010 - Hyperstone today announced that Toshiba (Europe) has agreed to provide the company with a variety of ASIC design and manufacturing services.

New SSD controllers based on Toshiba semiconductor process technology will sample in Q1, 2011.

Editor's comments:- Some of Hyperstone's products appear in consumer SSDs - and this is a market which is noted for its lack of effective backups (unlike the enterprise SSD market) - so I asked the company if they had any views about the emerging SSD data recovery market.

Axel Mehnert, VP Marketing at Hyperstone told me - "Regarding data recovery, we do not really have any particular statement or policy. It depends on the firmware. Customers (SSD oems) use different implementations. Depending on the deletion process or errors' root causes data recovery might be possible or, in other cases, not even desired. Our customers specify their requirements and we adopt our firmware accordingly. Quite possibly, you will find different types of implementations when looking at the same controller ID."


SandForce shows x2 SSD controller

Editor:- October 7, 2010 - SandForce today announced availability of its next generation SF-2000 family SSD processors - for oems designing SAS 3 class (6Gbps) enterprise acceleration SSDs.

The SF-2000 supports 500MB/s sequential R/W, 60,000 sustained random IOPS, wire speed encryption, end to end data integrity checks and industrial temperature operation in a skinny flash SSD architecture.

Also new in this controller generation is support for sector sizes additional to 512-bytes e.g., 520, 524, 528, 4K, etc., with Data Integrity Field (DIF) for true enterprise-class SAS drive behavior and performance.

Editor's comments:- one simple way of looking at the SF-2000 would be as an incremental x2 version of what SandForce has done before - which also demonstrates that the glass ceiling for their architecture is much higher than some people might have thought.

In a briefing yesterday I asked about the data recoverability of the SSDs based on the new controllers - while acknowledging that the market it was aimed at - the datacenter- does adequate backups so DR shouldn't be necessary.

Kent Smith, Director of Product Marketing, SandForce told me that in this family of SSD controllers - the company would be moving even closer towards what already exists in military SSDs - and offering the option of having on board data sanitization. The data in SF-2000 driven SSDs is double encrypted (encrypted on the way in from the SATA controller and then encrypted again as it is written to the flash array. The company's view is that it would be impossible for a DR company to reconstruct data from the flash chips in the SSD without having access to the SSD oem's unique key generation technology. (The oem has the ability to do this as a one time programmable function.) Without that data - even SandForce would be unable to read the contents of the SSD.

These technologies are designed to make customer data secure. It would be possible for SSD oems to select DR partners to whom they entrusted their own keys - but that was a matter for the SSD maker. Proliferation of such data is likely to be restricted - because otherwise it defeats the security of the product.


SSD Data Recovery - update

Editor:- September 15, 2010 - regular readers of StorageSearch.com know that I'm skeptical about the claims which most data recovery companies put on their web sites about their abilities to recover data from failed SSDs.

David Foster, General Manager of Memofix emailed me to say - "I was reading what you were saying about SSD drives and data recovery. I agree 100% with your view that most recovery companies cannot deal with most SSD hardware issues. But please remember a large portion of the cases any recovery company sees are the result of file system damaged or corruption .. and these cases are easily handled by any half descent DR company.

"Memofix has only ever seen 3 SSD drives for data recovery and 2 cases were file system damage including a simple deletion case. In the other case we were able to replace a non-memory component and make the device accessible again.

"Additionally we do dozens of USB flash drives with anywhere from 1-4 actual memory chips onboard, so we do intimately understand the intricies of translation tables and putting all the pieces back together."

Editor:- it's good to hear from people who know what they're doing in this new area of SSD data recovery. David Foster also writes a blog in which he discusses storage reliability and recovery in a more informative way than many others I've seen - based on his long experience in the industry.

For example - did you know that 2.5" drives are more recoverable than 3.5" drives? - I didn't - and would have expected it to be the other way round.


new article - SSD training and education

Editor:- July 19, 2010 - StorageSearch.com today published a new article and directory on the subject of - SSD training and education.

There are many people out there on the web who say they can help you. But choosing an SSD training supplier could be as tricky as finding a new SSD - or as risky as choosing an SSD recovery company.


Recalibrating Consumer Assumptions about SSD Data Recovery

Editor:- December 7, 2009 - this is an update on the theme of Data Recovery for flash SSDs.

The ability to recover data (or not) from a damaged flash SSD could become an important way of segmenting SSD products. In this context (as always) an SSD is defined as a device which has internal wear-leveling - as opposed to simpler flash drives which don't. The loss of data which maps logical to physical addresses inside the SSD controller presents a tough challenge for recovery.

SSD Data Recoverability segments can be broadly defined as
  • easily recoverable. This includes devices which have internal support to facilitate data recovery - designed into the controller architecture. Although such products are in the design stage - they are not yet widely available. This type of SSD could be as economic to recover as a current notebook hard drive.
  • recoverable at high cost. This is the case for nearly all flash SSDs currently shipping. (See comments from a data recovery expert below.)
  • non recoverable (unlucky). This is one step beyond the category above. Most flash SSDs with internal encryption would not be economic to recover - if the internal translation tables were corrupted. This includes many new notebook SSDs - and will come as an unwelcome surprise to their owners should they be unlucky enough to need data recovery services.
  • non recoverable (intrinsic). These are SSDs which have been specifically designed to thwart any prospects for data recovery. In these SSDs - data destruction circuits are part of the product design - and you pay more for this feature.
I've been talking to data recovery experts about SSD recovery for many years - but it's only recently that the market has reached the size where this is starting to become part of their daily experience.

Andy Butler, founder of ABC Data Recovery today told me - "I have 3 technicians who all trained on NAND readers. On average we do about 30 per week but can handle more. It gets more time consuming - therefore costly - as you move into larger SSDs. A 64GB PCIe SSD unit could take a technician over a week of nonstop work.

" It's more complex than a RAID recovery, but consumers assume their data is safe and a recovery will be cheap because it's not a mechanical repair. As the recovery tools / technology develops we should be able to speed the process up, but for the time being any SSD over 8GB are charged on a case by case basis. Anyone with an encrypted SSD should be warned to backup, if the controller gets damaged, it's most likely we would only recover encrypted data."
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Data Recovery for flash SSDs? - don't count on it

Editor:- September 24, 2007 - if the flash SSD market reaches the levels of penetration predicted by many analysts - then in a handful of years nearly half of all new notebook PCs will use flash SSDs instead of hard disk drives.

What happens when those SSDs inevitably fail - and there's no backup?

Most consumers don't do regular backups - and most small businesses don't either.

When hard drives fail, get submerged in water or get damaged in fires - the solution of last resort - is to call a data recovery company.

These superheroes can often recover a lot of data - even if the pcbs and chips in the disk drive have been damaged. Superheroes don't come cheap. The cost for a difficult recovery can run into thousands of dollars (for a single disk) but for many satisfied customers that's a much better result than being left with no business or months of lost time rewriting reports, novels etc.

Although flash SSDs are new to the consumer market - they've been around for many years in markets which absolutely needed their levels of ruggedness (and could bear the high cost). So you may be thinking that there's a well established industry already out there ready to process your flash SSD - if you are unlucky enough to need a data recovery service today.

You would be wrong.

The reason is that the biggest traditional customers of flash SSDs have been the military or industrial users who didn't want enemies / competitors stealing their secrets.

Erstwhile flash SSD manufacturers like Adtron, BiTMICRO and STEC specialised in having on-board disk sanitization of various forms to make sure that that the data is never recovered by the wrong people.

So there isn't an established data recovery market track record for flash SSDs in those applications which have been around the longest.

The nearest that the market has to offer - is experience with recovering data from simple flash memory storage (like USB keyring style devices or camera memory cards). Unlike SSDs - those devices aren't designed for intensive write applications - and there is nothing very complicated between the interface controller and the flash chips themselves. So if the controller gets zapped by static - or crunched by your car driving over it - the data is relatively easy for experts to recover from the flash chips.

That isn't the case with most flash SSDs - which use complicated controller technology to extend the reliability and speed of storage. The architecture inside a high performance SSD is more complicated than that in most RAID systems. The algorithms which map addresses to physical media locations vary from manufacturer to manufacturer - and in many cases - like the formula for making Coke or Pepsi - the details are closely guarded commercial secrets.

Look at the server market and data recovery (at the single SSD level) is not a burning issue for datacenter applications - because most often the SSDs operate in some kind of RAID protected array - and are also backed up (internally or externally) to other disks.

One thing missing in the consumer notebook SSD market is a clear signal by oems - that data in their devices can be easily recovered - if there is no backup - or the backup failed. Maybe the next generation of products will address that issue. It would be another way of segmenting the consumer flash SSD market - and a market need and opportunity which hasn't been understood by SSD product marketers at the close of 2008.

Although flash SSDs are inherently much more reliable than hard drives - that's no consolation for the customers who will be the pioneers in SSD data recovery.

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image shows Megabyte the mouse  gluing back broken pieces of his storage barrel - click on this to get the  main data recovery page which lists 50  vendors and articles
Data Recovery articles etc on StorageSearch.com
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WARNING! - CONSUMER SSD

contents liable to change without notice
Editor:- June 13, 2014 - it seems that the risk of preplanned component substitutions by the original branded SSD maker (rather than merely the supply chain risk of counterfeits by persons unknown) is another uncertainty which readers in the consumer SSD market may now have to contend with. ...read more
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"More often than not, files that were deleted from an SSD drive will not be recoverable. This may not be what you wanted to hear, but is due to the TRIM command which causes the SSD controller to physically clear data blocks that were used to store deleted files. Granted, the actual data wipe doesn't occur immediately..."
Recovering Information from SSDs - blog by Hetman Software (September 2012)
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"Don't use Self-Encrypting SSDs (if you think you might need a future data recovery)..."
That's the "advice" in a blog SSDs: Flash Technology with Risks and Side-Effects (August 2013) - by Kroll Ontrack - which goes on to say -

"This type of encryption is very secure, but ensures total data loss in the event of a failure. With SEDs, the encryption keys are only known to the hardware manufacturers and will not be released. What this means is in the event of a failure, the data is no longer accessible to professional data recovery companies".
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"In some ways, blocks lost due to media corruption present a problem similar to recovering deleted files. If it is detected quickly enough, user analysis can be done on the cyclical journal file, and this might help determine the previous state of the file system metadata. Information about the previous state can then be used to create a replacement for that block, effectively restoring a file."
Why CRCs are important - blog by Thom Denholm Datalight (January 2013)
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Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

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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"Is Lenin dead yet?"
MLC flash lives longer in my SSD care program
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"When it comes to fault tolerance - you have to analyze SSDs as data systems devices and not as electronic components."
FITs - reliability abstraction levels in SSD modeling
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SSD ad - click for more info
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First you learned about SLC (the good flash).
Then you learned about MLC (naughty flash when it played in the enterprise - but good enough for the short attention span of consumers).

Then MLC SSDs learned how to be good.

Now some MLC is much nicer than others. - When it's preceded by an "e" (extra-good). But it costs more.

But other people say you don't need the expensive "e" - because their controllers empathize better with naughty flash. (They really care about naughty flash being sent to bad block jail too soon.)

Is your head ready to explode yet?

It's going to get even more complicated.

......from sugaring MLC for the enterprise
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Sorry - there isn't a magic formula which resolves neatly in 5 easy bullet points
the problem with SSD education
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Can you believe the word "reliability" in a 2.5" SSD ad?
Editor:- Reliability is an important factor in many applications which use SSDs.... but can you trust an SSD brand just because it claims to be reliable?

As we've seen in recent years - in the rush for the SSD market bubble - many design teams which previously had little or no experience of SSDs were tasked with designing such products - and the result has been successive waves of flaky SSDs and SSDs whose specifications couldn't be relied on to remain stable and in many products quickly degraded in customer sites.
storage reliability branding article As part of an education series for SSD product marketers - this case study describes how one company - which didn't have the conventional background to start off with - managed to equate their brand of SSD with reliability in the minds of designers in the embedded systems market. ...read the article
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What is Data Recovery?
Selecting a Data Recovery Provider
an introduction to SSD Data Recovery Concepts

HA SSDs
SSD news
SSD videos
SSD education
SSD Bookmarks
the Fastest SSDs
the SSD Heresies
Who's who in SSD?
the SSD Buyers Guide
SSD Jargon Explained
SSD Reliability Papers
Tuning SANs with SSDs
After SSDs... What Next?
Flash SSDs / RAM SSDs
the Top 20 SSD Companies
this way to the petabyte SSD
Introducing the 1" SSD Market
SSDs - the big market picture
Imprinting the brain of the SSD
Increasing Flash SSD Reliability
Storage Market Outlook to 2015
sugaring MLC for the enterprise
Hard way ahead for hard drives?
Surviving SSD sudden power loss
animal brands in the SSD market
Why I Tire of "Tier Zero Storage"
Data Recovery from Flash SSDs?
RAM Cache Ratios in flash SSDs
Big versus small - SSD architecture
What's the best / cheapest PC SSD?
Is the SSD Market Recession-Proof?
Branding Strategies in the SSD Market
3 Easy Ways to Enter the SSD Market
Encryption - impacts in notebook SSDs
Overview of the Notebook SSD Market
35 Years of SSDs - SSD Market History
a new way of looking at Enterprise SSDs
flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome
Power, Speed and Strength in SSD brands
the Problem with Write IOPS - in flash SSDs
SSD Myths and Legends - "write endurance"
Data Integrity Challenges in flash SSD Design
why the notebook SSD crystal ball is still murky
Market Trends in the Rackmount SSD Market
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