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when the socket fits but the datasheet doesn't

the problems in sourcing modern replacements for end of life and obsolete embedded SSDs - because there's no such thing as a simple standard legacy industrial SSD
by Zsolt Kerekes, - editor - - June 3, 2014

Are you searching for a nice simple source of new reliable industrial USB / PCMCIA / CF flash SSDs as replacements for eol (end of life) flash SSDs from SiliconSystems or SanDisk and others - which were specified in legacy equipment designs?

If it's proving to be harder than you thought - there may be a reason.

In a round about sort of way this article started in November 2013 when Michael Furtado Director of Sales at PCcardsDirect contacted me to ask about advertising PCMCIA and similar classic industrial temperature rated cards and SSDs aimed at customers still looking to support legacy equipment.

He had learned about my site from someone who had been a customer of mine for advertising similar products many years ago. That company had been acquired - and its new owner no longer supplied direct replacements for those original products.

The real question was - do you think you have many readers today looking for new industrial SSDs which can operate reliably in slots designed for older products and legacy form factors and interfaces?

I thought - that's a good question - but I didn't have a reliable answer.

Most of my readers today (as ever) are looking for the leading edge of SSD design - rather than the trailing edge. So I wondered - will there be enough interest with readers to make such an ad worthwhile?

Not just from the perspective of - how many people are actually looking for these products? - which it was hard to guess. But also taking into account the negative connotations of allocating too much web page space to a topic which a lot of people might regard as being "old fashioned" SSDs (even if the technology inside is the newest.

Anyway - I said to Michael - why don't you design some banner ad style messages for your products. I can use banner ad technology to measure and see how many readers might be interested.

You can see some of the examples I used in this column.
SSD ad - click for more info
And while that was going on - in the months which followed that initial conversation - I made a special effort to talk to more people in the market about this particular problem.

The problem of buying (and selling) essential but unsexy sounding legacy SSDs.

And I realized that some of the simplest sounding products in the market (simple from the outline technical description anyway) are causing some of the biggest headaches for buyers (and sellers).

That's because there're no such thing as a simple standard legacy industrial SSD.

And even when you (as a potential buyer) go online to look for these - and add some qualifying descriptive words such as "SLC" or an interface type to your online search criteria - you seem to be getting farther away from a reliable search result rather than closer.

Why is that?

There are times and places in the SSD market - such as when designing entirely new products and systems - where everything starts out as an open question.
  • what kind of form factor?
  • what kind of interface?
  • where is the SSD going to fit in the architecture?
  • what are the market factors which determine - how much each part of the product should cost?
Those are interesting and exciting issues for engineers and marketers to get involved in.

But what about a few years later? - when the product which uses the SSDs has already been shipping for a while. Maybe it's the 2nd or 3rd or 4th generation of products using SSDs.

The engineers and the marketers long ago stopped arguing about the theoretical tradeoffs between faster and slower operation, how much space the electronics should take up, how much power etc.

They can now talk to real customers who have been using the earlier designs. The scope for guesswork at this end of specifying the outline characteristics of the SSD (form factor, interface, capacity, speed etc) has been largely eliminated.

narrowing down the angles for purchasing?

So you'd think that when it comes to the person in purchasing - who's looking for standard SSD products to go into industrial or embedded systems - which aren't pushing the state of the art when it comes to form factors (some like CF have been around forever) and whose needs include the type of SSD interfaces which haven't been seen much in SSD news in the last 10 years - it should be simple enough.

Just get the outline specifications and buy the cheapest.

That would be true if the "specifications" actually included everything which uniquely describes the SSD.

But in the SSD world - there is no such thing as a standard SSD.

These are all virtual devices.

Everything in the SSD - or about the SSD - is either there (or not there) because someone made a decision about whether it was needed in that product.

And the safe assumptions about what those factors are - have changed with time.

So when the engineering people say to the buyers - it's the same as that product we used 5 or 10 years ago - but with these few differences - that presents a problem.

Memory technologies have changed - which means controller technologies have changed too.

SSD suppliers have changed - because the SSD market has changed. And it's not unusual to find that the original supplier of your standard SSD is no longer selling this type of product for your type of application . (Even if they are still in business.)

The information about what was different inside that so called "standard SSD" has been lost too - making replacement criteria an error-prone judgement. Did anyone ever test how many milliseconds of holdup time there were in the original SSD design? And even if someone did measure it - how does that behavior to sudden power loss - translate to a different controller design - with different firmware?

10 years ago you didn't need to ask if your flash SSD understood the industrial market.

Where else were they going to sell their products?

But today with so many markets for SSDs you can't be sure that when you buy a so called standard product you're getting what you really think you're getting - especially when you can't be 100% certain about what you were getting before - because so much of it was assumed to be the case rather than explicitly satisfied.

Anhd even if you are happy with the technical aspects of the products you are getting - is there anything better you can get on the price.

Buyers often start at this end - and if that's you - then it's good to know that PCcardsDirect do list the prices of their SSDs online.

But going back to where I started this article.

Are there many readers looking for old fashioned simple, reliable, legacy industrial SSDs?

The answer was - yes.

And was a banner ad a helpful way to enable such readers to progress their searches?

My stats indicated yes - but you can't really say very much in a banner ad - so it's only a signpost rather than a destination.

I nearly forgot to mention - early on in my conversation with Michael Furtado - we touched on the subject of his company's name.

I said - I thought that from the perspective of any readers who are younger - PCcard - sounds like it may be something to do with PCs - which is a bit gimmicky.

On the other hand I also realized that PCcards - is the name that some of these flash cards were called decades ago. And if your business is supplying legacy SSDs - some of which are compatible with that format - then it's part of the territory.

That takes us into a different subject altogether - which is - what's the best name for an SSD brand? Which I'm not going to say anything more about here - because that spawns into a whole lot of complicated articles - even though you'd think that choosing a name for an SSD or SSD company should really be simple.

Yeah - like finding a reliable USB SSD...


The growing size and complexity of the SSD market today - and the risks which come from choosing the wrong suppliers and wrong products - means that new markets have opened up for specialist suppliers in the SSD ecosystem - to do the simple things which aren't so simple any more.

more SSD articles on

what's the state of DWPD?

Custom SSDs - why do this business?

this is not your Grandfather's industrial SSD market
SSD ad - click for more info

storage search banner

SSD History image  Squeaks-a-Bit -

When it comes to old SSDs
there's legacy and there's primeval.
SSD ad - click for more info

And another complication for wouldbe purchasers of old military SSDs (for spares) is that they might not have access to the outline technical specifications at all.

And to make things even worse the part numbers in their shopping list may not be the original manufacturer's markings (from which the form factor and interface can be inferred) but the numbers are proprietary markings from a systems integrator whose conversion list for this old project is no longer accessible.

I heard this from a reader in this exact predicament.

Vendors are still making new SCSI SSDs
Editor:- June 6, 2016 - I've known for a long time that you can still get parallel SCSI SSDs for industrial and military applications from some vendors. But I was surprised to hear about the lengths that vendors still go to to qualify such products for EOL enterprise servers and workstations too.

I read some interesting things about that today after being contacted by James Hilken Sales Director of SSDL.

In November 2015 his company launched a range of SCSI SSDs as hard drive replacements for customers who were still using old (1990s vintage) VAX workstations.

I had hypothetically proposed the notion that SSDs could prolong the life of the DEC's Alpha server line (which came after the VAXes) when the last Alpha processor models were announced in an article in 2004.

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.
a simple list of military SSD companies?

What about the future of the PATA SSD market? You may have thought it would disappear - because of the higher performance offered by SATA SSDs. But you would be wrong.
the PATA SSD guide

"BoM problems are typically defined by 3 measures:- completeness, consistency or correctness. Many manufacturers, especially those which pursue low cost strategy, have shown an inability to procure the same components, control their manufacturing process or issue corporate communication highlighting changes to the component/process in product manufacturing."
Industrial SSD BOM Locking - Who Can You Trust?
by Samuel Nakhimovsky, GM - Fortasa Memory Systems

"CompactFlash cards were originally designed in 1995. Industrial CompactFlash cards have been especially popular in Aerospace, Gaming, Military and Process Control Systems. In addition to the high reliability, these cards are appreciated for their long life cycles with firm BOM control.

BOM control signifies the components that are used to build the Compact Flash cards do not change unless there is a Product Change Notification."
Steve Larrivee, Cactus Technologies - from his blog - Industrial CF Cards for High Reliability Applications

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. the article

Flexxon SSDs for indistrial medical and automotive applications - overview image

IMA (Industrial, Medical & Automotive)
XTREME series SSDs - from Flexxon

FPGA controllers can delay EOL
In December 8, 2014 - XES said that based on its perspective (making rugged flight proven secure SSD based storage modules) that FPGA based controllers enabled longer SSD longevity and management of EOL and Obsolescence issues commonly associated with foreign-designed and manufactured storage controllers, which often are discontinued before a system can go into production.

Directories and articles related to legacy SSDs

One of the comforting things about the industrial SSD market before 2017 was that products didn't change much from one year to the next. But new applications and technologies for rugged SSDs will change that picture.
say farewell to reassuringly boring industrial SSDs
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