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Industrial Flash SSD Economics - Premium Value for the Higher Quality

Posted by Robert Noyes on Saturday, 12 Apr 2014

Fortasa Industrial SSD Product Family

Frequently our embedded customers compare our Industrial Grade Flash Card, SSD and other storage products with the consumer grade devices typically found on Amazon, or other retail or e-tail sites. The discrepancy in product cost between the Industrial Grade Flash and its consumer brethren is amazingly wide. Considering that every card, whether Industrial or Consumer, has to have a connector, PCB, Flash Controller and NAND Flash component, they are often dumbfounded as to the such sizable price difference.

Given the lack of transparency, I wanted to elaborate on the economics of building an Industrial vs. a Consumer Flash card and the reason for substantial cost difference.

As mentioned, any Flash card, SSD or Module consists of the following critical components:

1) Connector

2) Printed Circuit Board (PCB)

3) Flash Controller

4) NAND Flash

5) Flash Controller Firmware

A conventional consumer grade flash connector is made with tin coating of electrical contacts. This is a very cost effective process that provides average electrical connectivity and average life expectancy.  Conversely, the industrial grade connector is typically manufactured with gold contact plating for significantly better electrical connectivity, especially under temperature extremes.

The cost of PCB is heavily dependent on the quantity of electrical layers used. To reduce cost the engineers of consumer Flash cards and SSDs attempt to route all design signals within two electrical board layers. While this approach typically passes minimum requirements of PCB design the traces are just wide enough to comply with the board layout rules. In Industrial grade solid state storage the goal is to provide the highest reliability product and critical power and clock traces are widened and isolated to prevent any crosstalk or other potential adverse electrical effects. The Industrial Flash products PCB is typically four or more layers for most reliable signal routing; and these additional layers most definitely add to the end product cost.

Flash controller is the heart of the Flash storage system, however, to satisfy the relentless drive for cost reduction in consumer high volume applications the controller vendors have reduced the feature set and flexibility of the controller for maximum efficiency at minimal cost. This is the reason why oftentimes the performance specifications of consumer flash card are superior to those of the Industrial variant. Industrial Flash controllers have the built-in capability to add or modify the standard feature set for security options, usage traceability or power draw. In the event of field failures, Industrial Flash Controller has the special system hooks to enable debug of events and determination of the cause of failure.

NAND Flash is the preferred media for data storage in Flash cards and SSDs. There are many choices for the media selection based on performance, reliability, data retention requirement, temperature span and most obviously cost. Given that the consumer Flash cards are considered to be almost disposable, the NAND Flash choice is driven by the cost budget than other concerns. The Industrial grade SSD utilizes the specific NAND component applicable to the customer usage needs. Whether it is the performance, temperature, life expectancy or power, Fortasa can offer a specific choice of storage solution optimized to the customer's system requirement.

Firmware that runs the controller is the critical glue that keeps the system together. Industrial grade devices utilize custom firmware that has been optimized to address unique end application requirements. Whether the customer requires low operating power, higher sustained performance,  extended life expectancy, or any other task,  Fortasa engineers can develop the custom Firmware to meet or exceed the customer requirements.

Lastly, when the full custom industrial solution is assembled with the specific components and firmware it goes through rigorous qualification test of over 500 hours at voltage and temperature corners, environmental compliance, performance and power statistics, etc. before being released in production. Considering that typically no two customers share the identical industrial storage solution, unlike a high volume consumer product, all this qualification and test effort is spread between very small number of sold devices.

All this effort that Fortasa does on behalf of our customer in component selection, firmware development and test and qualification increase the base cost of the Industrial storage product dramatically. But for the customer who values our extensive effort and unrelenting focus on product quality and reliability it is worth the price.

Please contact Fortasa for any information about our Industrial Storage Products.