DIGISTOR will be attending the Flash Memory Summit

It’s the final day of the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California. DIGISTOR will be roaming the showroom floor from 12pm – 2pm, come find us! If you have questions about the DIGISTOR Professional Video SSD for Blackmagic Cinema Cameras we’re the right people to ask.

What is the Flash Memory Summit? Manufacturers of solid state drives and flash memory speak about the future and usage of flash technology for enterprise use, power users, high performance caching and more. Hear the latest market trends, and ask the experts on the showroom floor!

SSD shipments remain strong despite PC market difficulties

Shipments of SSD drives have continued to grow in 2013, despite overall weakness in the PC market. Ultrabooks and other thin laptops, along with tablets, were the key drivers of market expansion, and there may be additional growth opportunities in areas like video storage on Blackmagic Design's cameras and equipment. 

Approximately 11.5 million SSDs, including hybrid drives that combine HDDs with NAND flash storage, were shipped in the first quarter of 2013, according to a report from IHS iSuppli. That figure is almost double the total from the first three months of 2013, when 6 million SSDs were shipped. More than half of shipped SSDs were pre-installed on Ultrabook PCs and other ultra-thin notebooks, while 1.6 million were part of tablets.

SSDs made significant gains across nearly all business sectors. The medical and aerospace industries procured more SSDs to run advanced applications, while enterprises and consumer demand remained strong.

"The SSD market enjoyed big results in the first quarter as both the consumer and enterprise markets ramped up their use of machines that made use of the drives," said IHS analyst Fang Zhang about the results. 

SSDs strong even in a weak PC market
Overall PC shipments fell nearly 14 percent to 76.3 million in the first quarter of 2013, according to an IDC report cited by Solid State Technology's Shannon Davis.

The downturn appears to have affected only HDDs, however. The IHS report stated that HDD shipments fell to 135.7 million, a 7 percent year-over-year contraction. At 93.3 million units, consumers accounted for most HDD shipments, and their dissipating demand for legacy PCs appeared to be the cause of the decline. The remaining shipments were mostly to enterprises, which continued to favor inexpensive high-capacity HDD storage. 

Going forward, there may be additional growth opportunities in SSD drives for video. Commenting on the IHS report, a Solid State Technology contributor noted that HDDs maintained the lead for now in storage and editing of surveillance video. However, more affordable SSDs may eventually be able to meet the storage needs of big data applications like music, video and social networking services. 

At the professional level, Blackmagic Design recently announced in a press release that it had lowered the price of its Blackmagic Cinema Camera to $1,995. Although the camera has exceptional dynamic range and a high-resolution sensor, users can maximize its value by installing a DIGISTOR video SSD drive to facilitate high quality, raw video capture. This way, professional videographers and other media specialists can appreciate the full value of their sophisticated equipment.

Better performance, efficiency on the horizon for SSD drives

With professionals and businesses increasingly turning to slimline laptops and portable devices like tablets and high-performance Blackmagic cameras, innovation in the commercial SSD market has taken off, resulting in higher capacities and better speeds. The SSD market appears poised for further breakthroughs in the immediate future, as users grow more accustomed to the daily benefits of high quality storage.

Currently, SSD drives can most quickly interface with a computer via PCI Express. However, future hardware developments may enable SSDs to utilize the memory channels typically reserved for communications between memory and the CPU, according to ITWorld contributor Andy Patrizio. Accordingly, communication latency between drives and computers may be reduced by more than 85 percent.

Another promising development is a possible change in how NAND cells are grouped. Most consumer and professional SSDs arrange their cells horizontally, which makes them slightly larger than drives with vertical arrangements. With vertical grouping, the physical profile of SSDs can be diminished, even as capacity and speed are increased. Vertically stacked cells may also reduce cell interference, argued Patrizio.

In the past, some businesses were reticent to take up SSD drives due to a perceived gap between their read and write performance levels. Although early-generation drives could write data quickly, they sometimes read it more slowly, perhaps due to wear and tear from numerous write operations. Fortunately, Vertical NAND storage promises improved durability that will enhance the value of SSD drives as fast and reliable storage media.

How quickly will PC OEMs move to mainstream SSDs?
Writing for The Verge, Vlad Savov stated that SSDs are preferable to HDDs on any device and that momentum from recent mobile devices and Mac models was gradually making flash-based storage the norm.

"SSDs should be used by everyone: they're both technically and practically better than hard drives and they have a higher ceiling for future improvements," wrote Savov, echoing Patrizio's optimism about innovation in the SSD sector.

While Apple has aggressively instituted SSDs in newer MacBooks, some cost-conscious PC OEMs have clung to HDDs for now. Savov cited an industry expert who expected SSDs to overtake HDDs as a mainstream option by late 2014, in large part because of attitudes honed by smoother SSD performance on mobile devices.

"[M]obile users have been trained by their phones and tablets to expect instant-on and quick startup times," PC Magazine analyst Joel Santo Domingo stated, according to Savov.

SSDs may continue to gain in popularity and benefit from additional refinement, but businesses can already benefit from drives like DIGISTOR's mSATA Solid State Drives, which offer high density and speeds at an efficient size.

External backups can guard against new hard drive exploit

A recent high-profile exploitation of cloud storage service Dropbox and blogging platform WordPress has made it possible for hackers to hijack a person's hard drive for malware delivery. Users must be diligent and procure a backup medium such as a high-volume optical disc, as well as an external DVD drive to burn data to it, in order to protect their stored data from similar issues. Along the way, data archiving tools may also help to move old items to another location so that the PC ultimately runs more smoothly.

The attack is initiated by a Word document that tricks a user by masquerading as an important business file, according to TechNewsDaily contributor Paul Wagenseil. This tactic, known as spear-phishing, takes advantage of the security and ease-of-use that some consumers associate with Dropbox, which has marketed itself as a virtual hard drive.

"[T]he attackers could mask themselves behind the trusted Dropbox brand, increasing credibility and the likelihood of victim interaction with the malicious file from either personal or corporate Dropbox users," wrote the authors of a Cyber Square report that originally identified the hack.

After opening the document, a user is directed to download a similar embedded PDF. However, the latter file contains malware that exploits a vulnerability in Adobe Flash Player. The malware is downloaded to the user's hard drive, which then becomes a staging ground for remotely controlled communications with a WordPress blog.

In response, the WordPress site would then return complex strings directing the malware to other IP addresses and ports. Although it is unclear what the fully instructed malware can do, Cyber Squared pointed out that similar attacks from the same group of hackers often steal data and intellectual property from hard drives. Creating redundant disc-based backups with tools like a Blu-ray burner can lessen the impact of data theft.

Keeping a computer safe and speedy
In addition to accumulating secretive malware, hard drives can also become bogged down by extraneous  files that can pose similar issues by making a computer nearly unusable. Speedy SSD drives and data archiving solutions are efficient remedies for these issues.

Writing for The Economic Times, Karan Bajaj examined some of the common causes of PC slowness, including unsorted registry items and an excessive number of desktop shortcuts. Similarly, duplicate and out-of-date files should be deleted or moved to another medium using an archive tool. Like HDD fragmentation, these items result in inefficient, overcrowded drive storage. SSD drives can eliminate the fragmentation issue entirely and improve performance.

Slim laptop usage increases need for external optical disk drives

The PC's days as the unquestioned consumer computer market leader are quickly fading away, with tablets, laptops, smartphones and netbooks becoming more popular. While PCs can never offer the mobility that these options do, they do provide consumers with an unparalleled comprehensive set of features. The ease with which users can upgrade their machine's internal components has always been one of the PC's strong points. Not only do mobile options usually lack this capability, but they typically are devoid of such accessories as optical disk drives to upgrade. As the laptop market moves toward slimmer models, these longstanding features are being dumped in favor of sleek and lightweight designs.

However, there are moments where that lack of functionality can adversely affect consumers. For instance, an individual who recently purchased a newer model laptop may, like many other users, find that he or she has difficulty using the Windows 8 operating system. According to ZDNet, the OS has demonstrated a lower adoption rate than even Windows Vista at this point in its lifespan. The unwieldiness of Windows 8 has driven consumers to consider alternative options as drastic as switching to Mac products or downgrading to the OS's predecessor, Windows 7. However, as PCWorld recently explained, this is no easy task and may not even be possible on some systems without a boot disc.

For users who have invested in a slim laptop lacking an internal optical drive, this presents even further challenges. Without the capacity to read a boot disc, they will be stuck using Windows 8's interface. However, consumers can connect an external DVD drive through the USB port to add disc-reading capabilities to their machine. This way, users can install their Windows-based operating system of choice without purchasing an entirely new solution.

Using TRIM for aftermarket Mac SSDs

In addition to speedy performance and immunity to fragmentation issues, SSD drives also have long life​ spans. Still, the flash-based NAND storage used in many SSDs has a few design oddities that can slow down performance after prolonged or heavy usage. Fortunately, TRIM commands can clean up an SSD for more consistent long-term functioning, although end-users must ensure that both their drive and their computer operating system support these protocols.

The biggest potential weakness in using an older SSD resides in how it communicates with its host computer. For example, deleting a file typically results in a PC or Mac indicating that the space once occupied by the item is now free and writable. However, the computer's approach to storage management is not mirrored by the SSD, according to Tom's Hardware contributors Manuel Maserio and Achim Roos.

The drive continues to regard freed space as occupied, since its storage is designed for new items to simply overwrite old ones. As such, by default it does not permanently delete anything, which does not cause any problems until it runs out of storage blocks that have never had any data written to them. At that point, it begins overwriting data on old blocks, a process that can cause performance issues that TRIM is designed to mitigate.

"This is where the TRIM command comes into play," explained Maserio and Roos. "When a file is deleted, the operating system sends a TRIM command to the SSD, marking those sectors as invalid data. At that point, the drive knows not to perform garbage collection on them."

Without TRIM, an SSD could prematurely wear out its NAND cells by keeping blocks in garbage collection for long periods. Writing for Techgage, Rob Williams stated that a TRIM operation on the entire SSD can nearly bring it back to original performance levels.

TRIM and Macs
TRIM is now standard for SSDs, and commands are easy to implement in Windows and Linux PCs. However, managing TRIM can be complicated in the case of installing an aftermarket SSD on a Mac. On older MacBook models, a user can install a second drive by swapping out the computer's internal optical drive, but only OEM SSDs have TRIM support from OS X.

There is a simple workaround to the issue, which TechRadar contributor Matthew Bolton explained in an overview of Mac-compatible SSDs. Mac users can install a software solution called Trim Enabler, which lets most drives communicate properly with the operating system.

USB Flash drives not ideal for data archiving

Large enterprises typically have a number of redundancies in place to protect data in case copies become lost, erased or corrupted. Data storage best practices indicate that any information stored in the cloud should have at least one copy saved onto an on-premises server. However, small business owners and consumers usually do not have these backup solutions in place, either because they simply haven't considered the fallout from losing their precious data or they do not have the resources to invest in a secondary data storage device.

The issue of cost has driven many small business owners and consumers to utilize USB drives as their primary form of data archiving. The price of these devices has dropped considerably over the years. According to InfoWorld, consumers can purchase a 128 gigabyte USB drive for approximately $85 today, at a cost of 66 cents per gigabyte.

The risk of USB storage
Although small businesses can now acquire a large amount of removable storage for a relatively low price, USB drives are not ideal as a primary or secondary source of data storage. According to Cadzow TECH, a number of troubling USB drive characteristics should give potential adopters pause. For instance, the devices are typically constructed out of rather shoddy and poorly constructed materials. Everyday use can wear on these components, increasing the risk that they may break and compromise the contents of the drive.

Another major concern is that USB drives are prone to significant corruption issues. Lifehacker's Tessa Miller explained that many USB users are far too impatient when removing the drives from their computers, increasing the potential for the entire device to become corrupted. It is common practice for individuals to forgo the safe removal process, opting instead to simply remove the drive when they have finished accessing or writing data. However, by doing so, users run the risk of interrupting a program accessing the device. As noted by Cadzow Tech, USB drives are not fault tolerant and any disruptions can result in not only the file in use being corrupted, but the entire device as well.

Both small businesses and consumers need more secure data archiving solutions to protect their important files and documents. A disc-based software package will allow users to back up their data without worrying that their storage devices will become corrupted and unaccessible. By leveraging a Blu-ray burner and DIGISTOR'S REWIND Archiving Software, individuals can copy as many files as they wish across a number of durable discs. This way, important documents will always be accessible when needed.

SSD drives present promising future for medical data security

The data storage needs within the medical community have skyrocketed in recent years. The federal government has established guidelines mandating that medical facilities transfer all of their records to a digital format. With easier access to patient information, physicians will be able to provide better treatment at a moment's notice. However, this will also mean that hospitals, private practices and other medical institutions will need to invest in new data storage solutions.

As noted by BizTechMagazine, many hospitals have struggled to account for this increasing amount of data. Administrators must now store digital copies of medical images such as X-ray and MRI scans, handwritten doctor's notes and diagnostic test results. Managing the storage of these files is no easy task and hospitals have investigated several means to handle these demands.

Accounting for data storage compliance issues
Cloud computing has emerged as a potential option for some organizations as it can facilitate high-volume storage capacities at a relatively low cost. However, PerspecSys vice president Gerry Grealish recently explained in a SYS-CON Media article that cloud providers often cannot guarantee that the information stored on their servers will be adequately secured. Industry and government regulations such as those outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act have strict standards for how sensitive medical data is stored, which cloud providers may not be able to accommodate. According to a recent white paper written by Seton Hall law professors Frank Pasquale and Tara Adams Ragone, many vendors either don't have the resources to fulfill heatlhcare compliance regulations or simply refuse to enact the proper protocols.

"Although the Omnibus HIPAA Rule gives teeth to HIPAA by extending liability down the chain, many cloud service providers seem unwilling or unable to accept the implications of HHS's enforcement authority," the report stated.

To ensure that their sensitive patient records are probably secure, medical officials will likely have to deploy on-site data storage solutions. Another factor that administrators will need to consider is the ease with which personnel are able to launch important applications and access critical documents when needed. Although traditional hard disk drives can accommodate a large storage capacity, their slow read/write capabilities will result in latency issues which may interfere with hospital operations. For the most time-sensitive files and critical applications, medical facilities will need a data storage solution with much quicker access times. SSD drives can provide an optimal level of data accessibility, as the technology's NAND flash memory is not affected by the same physical limitations as HDDs. When physicians need to view medical documents without delay, SSDs can accommodate lightning-fast launch speeds and get needed information in their hands as quick as possible.

SSD drives offer military units greater data security

In recent years, state-backed espionage has gravitated from on-the-ground operations to network infiltration. Some of the most powerful governments on the planet are said to have engaged in substantial cyber espionage activities. With the right tools, cyberspies can now break into high-security systems and access sensitive information. For example, the Pentagon recently alleged that Chinese hackers breached federal databases and stole files containing the designs of numerous advanced weapons systems, The Washington Post reported. Some of the compromised technology includes components of America's defense systems capable of downing in-flight ballistic missiles.

Protecting military information is an essential but difficult task in this age of rampant cybercrime. Some nations have even gone so far as to remove their sensitive data from digital devices altogether. Agence France-Presse reported that Russia's Federal Guard Service recently requisitioned a number of typewriters so the country's intelligence agencies could prevent sensitive information from being accessed via networked connections.

There are more efficient ways to protecting sensitive data than ditching digital storage altogether. According to Computerworld's Robert Mitchell, military-grade solid state devices feature 'fast erase' capabilities that allow officials to quickly remove confidential records before an enemy agent can compromise them. Traditional hard disk drives can take hours to wipe its memory, depending on the number and size of files stored on it. Because of technology's read/write heads need to move into position to erase each file, HDDs are physically incapable of erasing military records at an acceptable speed. However, the NAND flash memory located in SSD drives are not impeded by such restraints. A device's entire array of memory chips can be deleted with a single action, taking a matter of seconds. 

In addition, once information stored on an SSD device is erased, it's gone for good. HDDs can sometimes leave traces of magnetic residue that could be used by foreign agents to reconstruct the data stored on the drive. With SSD drives, military units can be sure that their confidential information can be quickly and permanently removed if it is in danger of being compromised.

Malware trends demonstrate importance of backup drives, SSDs

Malware can be detrimental to both the performance and storage integrity of a computer, underscoring the importance of procuring a backup medium for sensitive data and SSD Drives for quicker access to files. With a few such hardware adjustments and preventive measures, a PC can be brought up to speed and better equipped in the event of failure.

In many cases, PCs run slowly due to malware infections, some of which directly target the hard drive. One such strain was documented by Geek.com's Lee Matthews, who stated that some attackers utilize fake disk defragmentation tools in order to diagnose non-existent issues on HDDs. After a user downloads the tool, it intentionally hides files and then instructs users to buy a chargeware solution to get them back.

"This malware goes beyond mere sensational alerts, however," wrote Matthews. "[I]t moves files from All Users and the current Windows user's profile into a temporary location, making it appear as though problems with the hard drive are causing files to disappear."

Malware one of many possible causes of PC slowness
Replacing an HDD with a more stable SDD can protect a user from this specific type of threat, which essentially misrepresents how a machine documents the read/write processes of traditional drive heads. However, guarding against the full range of problems requires comprehensive antivirus and security software, as well as backup options that provide recourse in case of complete system failure.

A recently identified piece of ransomware threatened such a scenario by disguising itself as an FBI warning. It implored a user to pay a fine or risk going to jail, while locking all on-board computer storage.

"If the infected computer is powered on and connected to the internet, Trojans have complete control of the computer and every piece of stored data," stated a news release from the Brown County (Wisc.) Sheriff's Office excerpted by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Gitte Laasby. Having an external backup strategy, such as storing important documents on Blu-ray discs an external DVD drive, could provide a way to access files that a user would otherwise have to ransom. 

Writing for PC Advisor, Matt Egan stated that it can sometimes be difficult to know why a computer is running slowly, with broadband issues and hardware problems joining malware as likely culprits. While installing a new processor or additional RAM can be difficult for PCs and impossible for recent Macs, upgrading to an SSD is a simpler solution that can pay immediate dividends in increased speed. HDDs are a common cause of performance bottlenecks and should be replaced if possible.