Network-centric data sharing fuels adoption of solid-state memory

By Courtney E. Howard

"Solid-state storage devices are becoming more prevalent in military and aerospace applications," explains Ken Owens, chief executive officer at solid-state memory specialist Conduant Corp. in Longmont, Colo. "Solid-state drives (SSDs) enjoy a number of advantages over spinning hard drives."

Jaden Ghylin, technical director at Crystal Group in Hiawatha, Iowa, agrees, noting "a huge market shift toward solid-state technology in military applications. There are many reasons for this shift, but the major benefit that all customers see is the high reliability of SSDs compared to rotational hard disk drives." The risk of a traditional disk drive failing is very real and is not acceptable, he says. Conversely, solid-state drives provide a high reliability alternative with no moving parts.  

"Traditional disk drives are a weak link in rugged deployments that subject storage equipment to vibration, shock, and wide temperature swings," Owens adds. "Today's SSDs have no moving parts and tolerate the rigors of field deployment.

"With no moving parts, solid-state drives are by definition more rugged," Owens continues. "With no spin-up, they start up quicker, are quieter, and don't suffer mechanical delays, improving both access time and latency." Because there is no actuator movement, SSDs are deterministic—files are written in their entirety without the fragmentation that's unavoidable with hard disk drives, Owens says.

"Due to the lack of any mechanical movements required to seek data, SSDs are able to access data on demand at speeds 10x to 100x faster than rotational hard drives," Ghylin says. "This trait can considerably reduce or eliminate lag associated with loading files, opening programs, or booting the system."  

Solid-state memory is a great choice for storage in mil-aero environments for a number of reasons, says Tom Bohman, product marketing manager at Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems in Fairborn, Ohio. "They are rugged enough to go into mil-aero systems and survive. SSDs have no moving parts, good shock and vibe characteristics, the ability to withstand extended temperature ranges, and reduced size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C)."

In the realm of power consumption, solid-state drives are a "green" technology. "With today's focus on green industry and sustainability, it's important to note that SSDs are more energy-efficient than hard drives," Owens says. Solid-state storage performs about 1,000 operations per Watt, compared with five operations per watt for disk drives.

Price also is driving the adoption of solid-state drives in mil-aero applications. "Cost has been one of the factors inhibiting adoption of solid-state drives; yet, prices for SSDs are dropping dramatically and the capacities are increasing each quarter," Owens says.

In 2002, solid-state drive was being used to replace tape in instrumentation and test systems, Bohman explains. At the time, a 500-gigabyte solid-state drive cost more than $1 million, offered data throughput at 80 megabytes per second, and was a full ATR in size. Today, that same 500-gigabyte solid-state drive in ruggedized form costs less than $35,000, fits on two VPX-based cards, and sustains throughput of up to 800 megabytes per second.

"SSD was out of the realm of possibility for all but the most high-end requirements," Bohman continues. "Now, SSD is really very practical to use in the entire rugged deployed fleet. It is within financial grasp of all mil-aero programs. In the past seven years, technology has made that possible."

Price and capacity had prevented SSDs from being used in large storage arrays in the past, Ghylin admits. "However, it is now possible to outfit multi-terabyte storage systems completely with solid-state technology at a price that won't knock your purchasing agent out of their chair. In fact, we are currently providing the RS47F system with up to 12TB of solid-state drive storage to multiple customers for use as a large storage array in mobile platforms.  

"The military has always looked at SSDs for resilience to vibration, shock, temperature, and altitude," Ghylin explains. "As prices have come down, using an SSD is now affordable and it comes with all the environmental benefits built in. We are seeing an increase in SSD use due to price declines and capacity increases." 

SSDs are being employed not only in new platforms, but also to upgrade existing land vehicles, ships, and aircraft. "Curtiss-Wright solid-state technology is now in netcentric systems," Bohman reveals. "We are providing rugged file servers with solid-state memory replacing rotating drives in many rugged environments." In fact, Curtiss-Wright sold a solid-state, network-attached storage (NAS) device to a U.S. Army program for use in military land vehicles. The solid-state, rugged file server sits on a network and serves as a single repository for all deployed platforms on the battlefield.

"All processors boot from and store data out to the file server, and that includes two devices streaming video," Bohman adds. "The server can then be removed from the battlefield and brought back for data playback, display, and analysis." For this and other reasons, Curtiss-Wright incorporates encryption technology into its solid-state systems. "As critical data is put into nonvolatile memory, it is encrypted. Enemies can't make use of the SSD should it fall into the wrong hands."

The company also is infusing its solid-state drive products with secure-erase technology. "When you have one terabyte of solid-state memory, it can take 16 hours to overwrite the information. To get around that, we provide encryption and technology to "zeroize" or sanitize the key. Without the key, you cannot decode the data. It takes milliseconds to zero the key and basically eradicate a terabyte of data."

In the future, it is clear that technology firms such as Conduant, Crystal Group, Curtiss-Wright, and others will continue to provide solid-state data storage with even greater SWaP benefits.

"We're putting more and more capacity in ever smaller spaces and it's costing less," Bohman says.

"The future of SSDs at Crystal is really focused on packaging more drives in smaller spaces to provide higher performance and higher capacities," Ghylin notes. 

"The future will bring higher capacities, lower prices, and smaller form factors," says Owen.

Company Information

Active Media Products

Fremont, Calif.
510-396-6539
www.activemp.com

Adtron
Phoenix, Ariz.
602-735-0300
www.adtron.com

Conduant
Longmont, Colo.
303-485-2721
www.conduant.com

Crucial
Meridian, Idaho
800-336-8915
www.crucial.com

Crystal Group Inc.
Hiawatha, Iowa
800-378-1636
www.crystalrugged.com

Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems
Fairborn, Ohio
937-252-5601
www.cwcelectronicsystems.com

Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing
Chatsworth, Calif.
818-998-0070
www.cwcembedded.com

Foremay
Fremont, Calif.
408-228-3468
www.foremay.net

Intel Corp.
Santa Clara, Calif.
408-765-8080
www.intel.com

Kontron
Poway, Calif.
888-294-4558
www.kontron.com

Micron Technology
Boise, Idaho
208-368-4000
www.micron.com

OCZ Technology
San Jose, Calif.
408-733-8400
www.ocztechnology.com

Phoenix International
Orange, Calif.
714-283-4800
www.phenxint.com

Samsung Electronics America Inc.
Ridgefield Park, N.J.
201-229-4000
www.samsung.com

SandForce Inc.
Saratoga, Calif.
408-864-0700
www.sandforce.com

STEC
Santa Ana, Calif.
949-476-1180
www.stec-inc.com

Texas Memory Systems
Houston, Texas
713-266-3200
www.superssd.com

Western Digital
Lake Forest, Calif.
949-672-7000
www.westerndigital.com

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July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7
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