Flash Storage Solutions for Embedded Designs

High Reliability Flash SSDs, Cards and Modules for Industrial Applications

Fake Industrial Grade Flash Storage  Devices – Beware of  Impostors

On my many trips to different parts of Asia, I never failed to be accosted by strange salesmen trying to offer jeweled Swiss watches, name brand women’s bags, designer perfumes and other luxury goods. These products look extremely genuine, high attention to detail, luxury boxes, glossy user manuals. Yet they are offered for a fraction of what the same item would cost in an American store. How is this done?

It is a common knowledge that Asia is full of brand name knock-offs, which are good looking copies of the expensive luxury goods built at a low quality Asian manufacturing facility using inferior component parts. So while the offered item might look and feel like a genuine part, it sure is NOT !

Similar development has been occurring in the Industrial Flash Storage market. Over the last few years a number of Asian no-name brands have come out of the woodwork offering Industrial Grade Flash storage products at dirt cheap prices. While their SSDs and Flash cards look just like the real devices, Industrial Labels with bar codes, professional looking data sheets and elaborate technical documentation, but in reality they are the same poor quality knock-offs just like the fake Rolex watches you find on every corner of an the Asian market.

What makes these devices inferior?

First, the memory component used is typically a reject component that the Asian manufacturers recover from the scrap pile of a semiconductor test house. While the rejected component can potentially function for a short while under normal conditions, the extended operation requirement of the Industrial Grade device will not be met.

All other assembly materials: connector, PCB, casing are of the least expensive kind resulting in physical damage to the device, especially in the highly environmentally sensitive applications.

Secondly, the Flash controller and respective firmware (FW) are usually created for the consumer device. The consumer market is very cost and performance sensitive. That means that the controller is the lowest cost product without any special features for robust operation or failure analysis. The accompanying FW is tuned for the maximum performance and not for long term reliable operation.

How to tell if the Industrial Grade Flash Storage device is genuine or fake ?

This is a multi-thousand dollar question as these devices are so well disguised that unless you do extensive reliability test of the product it is hard to find the weaknesses.

Here are a few clues:
1. Product Documentation -  Typically the knock-off brands spend a lot of time and care perfecting the product, but not the accompanying documentation. Once you start inspecting the product data sheet, you will see incorrect grammar, run on sentences and even paragraphs that don’t make sense from both language and technical sense.
2. Offered Price -  As the common wisely states, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is !”. Low price of the offered SSD or module is usually a red flag on the lack of quality or reliability or support, or all three. To be able to achieve such low pricing the component quality has most likely been sacrificed, the test and qualification effort has been reduced or even eliminated and pre and post sale support is probably non-existent.
3. Online Sales –  Typically a manufacturer supporting OEM or Industrial customers doesn’t develop products for the consumer market as the price and reliability requirements of the two markets are very different. As a good indication of potential issues with the vendor’s products, if the same Flash SSDs or modules are sold in on-line store, or even worse Amazon or Ebay, is a major flag to stay away as the low cost products developed and targeted for consumer market could cross over to the Industrial applications.

Final Thoughts

When developing a high value Industrial equipment that is expected to work reliably and last a long time, it is critical to make proper choices of all the component and sub-system qualification. Considering low cost no-name brand in your storage selection, while appearing lucrative might not be wise. The long term effects of subpar components, reduced qualification tests and long term support could become a major disaster, especially a long term after the original product has been deployed at end-customer’s site. Buyers should consider choices carefully and research the technical specifications and online presence to make sure that the product quality matches the reliability requirement of the end-product application.

Please contact Fortasa for our Industrial Storage Products Information and Reliability Report.

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Frequently we receive customer inquiries about our Industrial Storage products where they don’t understand the difference between an Industrial and Consumer solution and how the technology and product quality differs.

While my colleague addressed this question from the point of view of product manufacturing, I would like to address it from the point of view of technology and specifically about the Industrial Flash Controller that transparently manages the host system interface to NAND Flash media.

As part of the NAND Flash management algorithm, Flash controller performs the following discrete tasks:
1)   Error Check and Correction – Checking and Correcting any “flipped” bits mainly due to NAND Flash manufacturing defects or over use.
2)   Garbage Collection – Optimizing the usage of the Flash media to achieve higher performance and reduce media wear.
3)   Block Management – Allocating memory blocks into system and user space for efficient usage by the SSD.
4)   Wear Leveling – Moving data between different physical memory locations to extend the SSD reliability and usage.

The specific capabilities of the Flash controller to perform the listed tasks is most important when selecting the proper storage device. But finding the appropriate technical information in the product description can oftentimes be quite challenging.

ECC coverage of the Flash Memory Controller are often specified directly in the features section of the Storage Device data sheet. While as the general rule, the greater the ECC capability the better, it should also be considered jointly with the NAND Flash component used in the drive. NAND Flash manufactured of the more advanced process technology node requires much greater ECC correction, while a NAND component manufactured on a less advanced process node has lower ECC requirements. Most Industrial Grade Flash controllers use BCH ECC algorithm capable of correcting from 24 up to 80+ single bit errors per programming page of NAND Flash.

The Garbage Collection, Block Management and Wear Leveling capabilities of the Flash Controller are not that easily defined in a data sheet. However one should be able to ask the Flash Card or SSD vendor about the life expectancy of the product. As part of the life time calculation the vendor determines the Write Amplification factor, which is the aggregate constant of the combined Garbage Collection, Block Management and Wear Leveling technologies of Flash controller.

Please contact Fortasa for our Industrial Storage Products Reliability Report.

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Many computing applications require high level of data protection and security. When the system security is breached, the logical requirement is to purge or destroy the stored data quickly and efficiently before unauthorized access takes place.

SSD Efficient Data Destruction

SSD Efficient Data Destruction

However, secure data erasure is not a trivial task. Popular operating systems have been developed specifically to protect and not destroy the user data. Conventional “recycle” folder or “unerase” command give the user an easy way to restore a file that was wrongfully deleted.

A standard OS routine to delete a file merely removes the name header in the File Allocation Table (FAT) structure. While, without the name header, the file is not shown in the file structure, the file data, however, is still fully resident in the memory space and can be easily retrieved.

Secure Erase Command

The Secure Erase (SE) command which was specifically added to the ANSI standards is integrated in the Flash Controller firmware which makes it much less susceptible to system viruses or other unauthorized intrusion. The SE command is executed directly by the host and erases all user data sequentially sector by sector. If power failure is encountered, the command resumes execution once the power is restored.

Please contact Fortasa for information about Security Features of our Industrial Storage Products.

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Oftentimes there is a need to keep secure data away from public eyes. Traditionally the most common way to protect critical information on hard disk drives (HDDs) has been to encrypt it with a strong key. While the data is protected from the unauthorized access and duplication, it is still fully visible to anyone checking the drive contents. Unlike HDDs, in Flash cards and SSDs the data access can be restricted by the unique Flash Controller firmware functionality to not only encrypt, but also hide the data from the visible partition.

This capability to achieve securely hidden information is enabled in Fortasa Memory Systems Solid State Storage products. Select Fortasa devices offer user established protection zones. These zones are initially defined at the manufacturing facility by a device utility and can be set to any starting and ending LBA location. Once the zone is set it can be configured to one of the three definitions:
1) Unprotected - Fully Visible and Accessible by Read and Write Command
2) Restricted     - Hidden – Can’t Be Accessible by either Read or Write Command
3) Read-Only      – Can Only Be Accessed by Read Command, No Write or Erase Enable

The restricted access to the Restricted and Read-Only zones is setup through a specific password protection. Any proprietary information can be safely stored in the selected zone as long as it fits within the dedicated LBA space. The hidden/protected data can be subsequently accessed by a specific, proprietary access commands.

Please contact Fortasa for information about Security Features of our Industrial Storage Products.

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Fortasa CompactFlash Card and SATA Adapter

CompactFlash memory cards have been a preferred storage device in many of embedded application. Developers appreciate the compact physical size, high performance interface, environment robustness and ability to easily remove the device even during system operation. Most often the CompactFlash memory card is used as a direct replacement of a conventional magnetic Hard Disk Drive.

Most conventional operating systems, such as Windows or Unix/Linux, have standard device drivers that recognize CompactFlash cards as a HDD and enable transparent interface to the card. This handshaking is performed by the system device driver that reads the CompactFlash card’s Device ID table to recognize the Flash card capability and sets up an appropriate level of interface to the card.

Compact Flash standard defines a physical interface between the card and host system. The interface is physically smaller but electrically identical to the conventional ATA interface. As the CompactFlash specification progressed, there were developed multiple revisions of CF memory cards, each compliant with the higher revision of the specification. Revision 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 will work in Ultra DMA16 (Speed 16MB/s), Ultra DMA66 (Speed 66MB/s) and Ultra DMA133 (Speed 133MB/s) mode respectively. PIO mode supports up to 25 MB/s. All the revisions have been specifically developed to retain backward capability.

CF Memory Card Device Information

As mentioned earlier, each CF card contains specific information such as revision details, sectors, cylinders, PIO mode support, DMA support and other specifics of the card. These details are available in the storage area withing the CompactFlash called – device information memory. This information is read by the host by issuing “Identify Device” Command. The following locations of the device information register that defines the PIO and DMA capabilities of the CompactFlash card.

Word Address Default Value Data Field
 49  0h  Capabilities
 53  000Xh  Field Validity
 64  00XXh  Advanced PIO Modes Supported
 88  XXXXh  Ultra DMA (UDMA) mode supported and selected

In the Word 49 – Bit 9 and 8:
Bit 9: LBA supported
Bit 9 shall be set to 1, indicating that this Compact Flash Storage Card supports LBA mode addressing. CF devices shall support LBA addressing.
Bit 8: DMA Supported
If bit 8 is set to 1 then Read DMA and Write DMA commands are supported.
If bit 8 is set to 0, then Read DMA and Write DMA commands are not supported.

In the Word 64:
Bits 7 through 2 are reserved.
Bit 0, if set to one, indicates that the Compact Flash Storage Card supports PIO mode 3.
Bit 1, if set to one, indicates that the Compact Flash Storage Card supports PIO mode 4.
If bit 1 of word 53 is set to 1, the values in words 64 through 70 are valid. If this bit is cleared to 0, the values reported in words 64-70 are not valid. Any Compact Flash Storage Card that supports PIO mode 3 or above shall set bit 1 of word 53 to one and support the fields contained in words 64 through 70.

In the Word 88:
Bit 15: Reserved.
Bit 14: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 6 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 6 is not selected.
Bit 13: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 5 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 5 is not selected.
Bit 12: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 4 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 4 is not selected.
Bit 11: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 3 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 3 is not selected.
Bit 10: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 2 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 2 is not selected.
Bit 9: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 1 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 1 is not selected.
Bit 8: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 0 is selected 0 = Ultra DMA mode 0 is not selected.
Bit 7: Reserved.
Bit 6: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 6 and below are supported. Bits 0-5 shall be set to 1.
Bit 5: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 5 and below are supported. Bits 0-4 shall be set to 1.
Bit 4: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 4 and below are supported. Bits 0-3 shall be set to 1.
Bit 3: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 3 and below are supported, Bits 0-2 shall be set to 1.
Bit 2: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 2 and below are supported. Bits 0-1 shall be set to 1.
Bit 1: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 1 and below are supported. Bit 0 shall be set to 1.
Bit 0: 1 = Ultra DMA mode 0 is supported.
Bit 2 shall be set to 1 indicating that word 88 is valid and reflects the supported True IDE UDMA transfer modes:

From the preset definitions of the above Device ID register it is possible to know the mode of transfer supported by the specific CompactFlash card.


Please contact Fortasa for any information about our Industrial CompactFlash card products.

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