SSDs harder to manage than many think, Kroll Ontrack says

Despite the perception of reliability and simplified management, solid state drives and Flash storage technologies can cause headaches for IT administrators, according to a new survey by data recovery services firm Kroll Ontrack Inc.

The Minneapolis-based company, which has a data recovery lab in Toronto, recently conducted a survey of 560 business, government and consumer users. Kroll Ontrack found that while 90 per cent of respondents perceive SSD/Flash technology failure rates to be minimal, 57 per cent of those surveyed had experienced a data loss incident of some kind.

“This includes some sort of data loss, device malfunction, human error such as accidental deletion or system area corruption,” said Troy Hegr, Ontrack Data Recovery technology manager at Kroll Ontrack.

System area corruption accounts for 60 per cent of SSD/Flash data loss, he added, and includes component failures, a corrupted mapping table or a variety of fireware table issues that shut the device off and make the data inaccessible.

The data recovery firm also found that about 75 per of respondents consider the recovery of data from SSD/Flash memory to be “complicated,” with 21 per cent calling it “nearly impossible.”

For Kroll Ontrack, the results highlight the fact that increased adoption of SSD/Flash is leading to growing data backup and recovery incidents. This, it said, is due to the fact that SSD/Flash technology is new and resides in a more “scattered format on the drive as compared to traditional hard drive media where data is stored more linearly.”

The report arrives just a few months after a study conducted by the University of California in San Diego found that overwriting data and using built-in secure erase commands are unreliable when wiping SSD data.

Michael Wei, a PhD student at the school’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering and lead researcher on the project, said the reason sanitizing single files on SSD is more difficult than on a traditional hard drive is because there is no erase command on the operating system for an administrator to use. Instead, he said, the operating system must use write commands, which are at the mercy of the flash translation layer.

“It’s like a game of Plinko,” Wei said. “You’re basically dropping a write down to the FTL, hoping it will land on your file. When you want to erase the whole drive, if you write to it enough times, you’ll probably cover the entire drive, but not always.”

“Worse yet, chunks of the file you want to delete might be bunched together with data you want to keep, which results in large amounts of leftover data,” Wei said.

As a result of the findings, the UCSD’s team of researchers advised organizations to re-evaluate their end-of-life policies, which includes finding a data disposal company that is aware of the different internal architecture of SSDs and how to sanitize them.

Kroll Ontrack said its survey findings should lead organizations to the same conclusion. Hegr said that while IT shops should definitely not hesitate to turn to SSD/Flash technology, redundancy and back-up policies should be revisited.

“We’ve also experienced it in various cases where data is not overwritten,” he said.

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