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Macworld 2011: DriveSavers talks about SSD recovery

David Winograd

I spoke with Chris Bross of DriveSavers about recovery of data from SSD (solid-state drive) storage at their booth. Currently, SSDs are in their third generation with reliability improving all the time. An SSD is comprised of two parts -- the NAND memory and the controller. The NAND is more or less a commodity, so the real work is done by the controller. Controllers are made by a handful of companies, and according to Chris, controllers have to get smarter.

The MacBook Air uses Toshiba SSDs, which are considered in the market to be middle of the road -- consistent for Apple storage. A main difference between SSDs and hard drives are that before data can be written to an SSD, the block of NAND memory is erased, making data recovery of what was written before impossible. This is different from a hard drive where nothing gets erased if there is free space. Companies that use TRIM technology (like the SandForce driven Other World Computing SSDs) advance erase blocks, which makes them faster than others that do this just before they are written.

The biggest challenge in recovering data from an SSD is encryption. Although all hard drive companies offer encryption, it's used by a minority of users, but SSDs are almost always encrypted. Outside of security issues, encryption helps SSDs balance data distribution. DriveSavers can recover data from SSDs due to physical failure, trauma or firmware corruption, but that's only half the problem. If they can't get past the encryption, there's little they can do to help. Fortunately, controller manufacturers are working in conjunction with DriveSavers on failure analysis engineering since it's in everyone's best interest to make data recovery feasible.

DriveSavers has already been recovering data from SSDs for three years, and although they don't state success rates, they have recovered quite a bit of data. Chris tells me that SSDs have only achieved market saturation of two percent to date, but he expects that to increase to fifteen percent by 2015 as more computer manufacturers offer them and as prices continue to drop. When disaster occurs, DriveSavers is there to help, with pricing based on capacity. But according to Chris, and everyone else for that matter, the best advice is to back up. It's always better to be proactive than to need to rely on a reactive service like DriveSavers.

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