Most people fully understand that electronics are useless without power, but what happens when devices lose power in the middle of operating? That answer is highly dependent on a number of variables including what type of electronic device is in question.
For solid state drives (SSDs) the answer depends on factors such as whether an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) is connected, what controller or flash processor is used, the design of the power circuit of the SSD, and the type of memory. If an SSD is in the middle of a write operation to the flash memory and power to the SSD is disconnected, many bad things could happen if the right safety measures are not in place. Many users do not think about all the non-user initiated operations the SSDs may be performing like background garbage collection that could be under way when the power fails. Without the correct protection, in most cases data will be corrupted.
According to the Nielsen company, 108.4 million viewers were tuned into the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans only to be shocked to witness the power go down for 34 minutes in the middle of the game. If power can be lost during such an incredibly high profile event such as this, it can happen just about anywhere.
Inside the New Orleans Superdome stadium operations and broadcast server rooms
Enterprise computing environments typically have multiple servers with data connections and lots of storage. Over the past few years, a larger percentage of the storage is kept on SSDs for the very active or “hot” data. This greatly improves data access time and reduces overall latency of the system. Enterprise servers are often connected to UPS systems that supply the connected devices with temporary power during a power failure.
Usually this is enough power to support uninterrupted system operations until power is restored, or at least until technicians can complete their current work and shut down safely. However there are many times when UPS systems are not deployed or fail to operate properly themselves. In those cases, the server will experience a power failure as abrupt as if someone had yanked the power cord from the wall socket.
The LSI® SandForce® flash controllers are at the heart of many popular SSDs sold today. The flash controller connects the host computer with the flash memory to store user data in fast non-volatile memory. The SandForce flash controllers are specifically engineered to operate in different environments, and the SF-2500/2600 FSPs are designed to provide the high level of data integrity required for enterprise applications. In the area of power failure protection, they include a combination of firmware (FW) and hardware circuitry that monitors the power coming into the SSD. In the event of a power failure or even a brown-out, the flash controller is alerted to the situation and hold-up capacitors in the SSD provide the necessary power and time for the controller to complete pending writes to the flash memory. This same circuit is also designed to prevent the risk of lower page corruption with Multi-level Cell (MLC) memory.
Watch out for SSD solutions that provide backup capacitors, but lack the necessary support circuitry and special firmware to ensure the data is fully committed to the flash memory before the power runs out. Even if these other special circuits are present, only truly enterprise SSDs that are meticulously designed and tested to withstand power failures are up to the task of storing and protecting highly critical data.
In the control room and down on the field
The usage patterns of non-enterprise systems like notebooks and ultrabooks call for a different power failure support mechanism. Realize that when you have a notebook or ultrabook system, you have a built in mini-UPS system. A power outage from the wall socket has no impact to the system until the battery gets low. At that point the operating system will tell the computer to shut down and that will be ample warning for the SSD to safely shut down and ensure the integrity of the data. But what if the operating system locks up and does not warn the SSD or the system is an A/C-powered desktop without a battery?
The LSI SF-2100/2200 FSPs are purpose-built for these client environments and operate with the assumption that power could disappear at any point in time. They use special FW techniques so that even without a battery present, as is the case with desktop systems, they greatly limit the potential for data loss.
The naked facts
It should be clear that the answer to the original question is highly dependent upon the flash controller at the heart of the SSD. Without having the critical features discussed above and designed into the LSI SandForce flash controllers, it is very possible to lose data during a power failure. The LSI SandForce flash controllers are engineered to withstand power failures like the one that hit New Orleans at the Super Bowl, but don’t expect them to fix wardrobe malfunctions.
Merging the working cultures of two different companies can be a very complex task. In my past experience with these situations I have not typically found the result to be highly positive for the employees of the incoming company.
As one example, the acquiring company may tell the employees they will be able to keep their startup environment and mentality, but within one or two quarters nearly all of those attributes are eliminated and the employees just become another cog in the bigger machine. After that the drive and creativity that was fostered with that startup mentality often disappears.
Year two and still happily married
In the first week of 2012, LSI completed the acquisition of SandForce, further expanding its growing coverage of flash memory technology IP. SandForce had grown significantly since its emergence from stealth mode in 2009 to become a leading provider of flash controllers for enterprise, cloud and client solid state storage solutions.
The SandForce team was kept in whole and created the Flash Components Division of LSI. The team even continues to reside in the same building it had occupied the prior year, further supporting the internal feeling of their original startup mentality. Most of the original culture of SandForce was kept intact and that enabled the transition into the larger LSI Corporation much easier for most people. Because those changes were spread out over a longer period of time it was easier for the team to digest with minimal disruption to their daily flow.
For the business side of the acquisition, there has been significant upside as a result of the merger. Over the last 14 months, both companies have invested significant time and resources to leverage the SandForce® flash controller technology across the company. LSI had already designed a high-end enterprise solution using the SandForce technology in their PCIe based Nytro™ product line. With both companies now under one umbrella, the engineering teams are free to develop advanced capabilities between the products to enable deeper integration that will result in greater customer benefits.
Greater efficiency … for the sake of customers
As a single larger company, LSI is now able to redistribute engineering and support resources as needed to better align with the quick expansion of flash memory storage solutions for its customers. It is also much easier to ensure a higher level of interoperability between related products and solutions. Many of the customers already purchasing LSI products can use the same sales and support teams already in place to access and incorporate a larger set of solutions from LSI.
Enterprise storage manufacturers have millions if not billions of dollars of revenue and their reputation at stake when they select new and emerging technologies like flash memory to provide storage for their customers. There is always a level of concern when these companies work with smaller startup organizations. The high-technology industry is full of company names that had a great technology, but for one reason or another they could not sustain the business and fell into oblivion. The acquisition of SandForce by LSI adds the support and confidence of a multi-billion dollar company to help assuage any possible concerns of those enterprise manufacturers.
Personally, as one of the early SandForce employees, I have found the acquisition to be very beneficial to everyone involved including employees, customers, and end users. I look forward to further advancements we will make to the flash industry as we continue to drive flash memory into the storage industry.