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FMS 2013 Exhibition

The Exhibition Floor has grown a bit from previous years, and the traffic in the space reflects that. This year’s biggest booth award goes to Smart Modular. Smart Modular Booth


Congratulations to vendor Micron whose 16nm NAND flash wins the Best of Show award for Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology.

Best of Show award presentation

Micron wins for Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology

The exhibition floor is open one more time today for just a few hours. After you visit there, I encourage you to stick around and sit in on the Software session, chaired by yours truly. Todays topics will include Optimizing F lash with Software Built Specifically for Solid State; The Modern Age of Software Defined Storage; Storage Virtualization Technology for SSD and Flash Memory; and All I/O is Random I/O.

Thom Denholm | August 15, 2013 | Flash Industry Info, Flash Memory | Leave a comment

Flash Memory Summit 2013

Flash Memory Summit continues to grow, the organizers are expecting record attendance levels.

Brian Berg hosted a great session on Flash Memory Based Architectures. This technical discussion covered NAND Lithography trends, PHY Units for advanced design, and Solving the Power Cycling Challenge. The nearly full audience was eager for more.

The lead-off keynote saw Jason Taylor explain just how Flash is used at Facebook. It is amazing to hear that in just a few years they have gone from Hard Drives to Flash Cached Hard Drives and now to pure Flash SSDs for storage. No rotating media!

The Beer and Pizza chat with the experts on Tuesday evening had an attendance of over 400 people, and plenty of tables and topics. I co-hosted the Software table with Amit of Skyera. Each company does software, but each at different ends of the spectrum, if SSDs are right in the middle.

SSDs were less of a direct focus at the show, with more attention paid to the underlying Flash technology once again. This is the reason Datalight attends the show, and I for one was happy to hear about breakthroughs in latency, throughput and security.

Speaking of breakthroughs, the exhibition floor opens today at noon. I expect to see some 3D NAND, and Smart Modular has a large booth this year.

Thom Denholm | August 14, 2013 | Flash Industry Info, Flash Memory | Leave a comment

What is Industrial Grade eMMC?

eMMC has seen strong adoption and become the storage of choice for consumer devices such as smartphones, e-readers and tablets. These small devices all run on battery power and require high-density storage with low power consumption — at a low cost. Offered for less than $0.60 per GB and in a wide array of sizes — 4GB to 128GB in a single package — consumer-grade eMMC provides this price-performance-power combination. Built to a JEDEC standard, eMMC is now produced by all the major storage vendors including: Toshiba, Samsung, SanDisk, and Micron.

Newly emerging industrial-grade eMMC seeks to leverage this well-defined standard to satisfy a different set of demands. While consumer storage is focused first on cost and size almost to the exclusion of other requirements, industrial applications have a greater need for endurance and reliability with cost much lower on the priority list. Low power consumption – an escalating priority for the consumer market — is also a growing concern for some industrial uses. Many applications within the industrial market require a wider operating temperature range, greater environmental tolerances, additional data security protection, and power fail recovery features.

The new breed of industrialized eMMC responds to these requirements and is gaining consideration for embedded applications in areas such as automotive, medical, aerospace, and other commercial applications. While the industrial marketplace demands a much greater ruggedness than the consumer market, it is also not as cost-sensitive. Industrial devices are much more durable and often mission-critical, products that may be in use for ten or more years recording important data day in and day out. At least one Datalight customer expects their products to operate for twenty years in the field with zero failures.

Industrial grade devices often need to operate in harsh environments that include extended operating temperature ranges — extremes that would cause consumer-grade eMMC to fail. Components must be specified in consideration of the particular need. Automotive and aerospace uses, for example, have a broader temperature demands than medical environments. The table below shows typical temperature ranges for different grades of electrical parts.


Low Temperature

High Temperature











The higher reliability of industrial eMMC comes with a higher price, which is justified by the longer payback period and business-critical performance. The chart below shows the general relationship of cost and reliability for the consumer and industrial eMMC memory.


So how do eMMC manufacturers achieve the endurance necessary to meet the industrial standard? Unlike other industrial solid-statue storage – eMMC can be configured to operate in one of two modes: Single-Level Cell (SLC) at one bit per flash cell – sometimes called “enhanced mode” or Multi-Level Cell (MLC) at two bits per flash cell – referred to as “standard mode”. While enhanced mode has half the number of storage bits, it lasts about 20 times as long as standard mode. Stated conversely, standard mode provides twice as much storage, but its endurance is reduced by a factor of 20. In more specific terms, standard mode may fail at about 3,000 P/E cycles, while enhanced endures for about 60,000 P/E cycles.

In addition to the existing consumer eMMC standard packaging of 153 or 169 ball packages, JEDEC has recently standardized on a 100-ball industrial-grade packaging. This new Industrial packaging provides reduced cost of manufacturing with simplified PCB trace/space designs, fewer number of balls, and fewer number of PCB layers. Industrial eMMC devices are available today from Micron, Kingston, and Memoright. Greenliant and Smart Modular are also entering the industrial eMMC market.

Industrial storage requires increased reliability and endurance. The hardware is only half of the solution.   The software driving the storage is the other half, and has an equal or greater effect on reliability and endurance.   Are you leveraging all the tools available to you to meet the endurance and reliability requirements?    To learn more about solutions for managing eMMC devices, see our FlashFXe page.

RoySherrill | July 23, 2013 | Flash Memory, Flash Memory Manager | Leave a comment

Automotive Challenges

Automobiles and Trucks have gone from simple contraptions to full blown multi-processor networks in just the last few years. Between M2M and the Internet of Things, today’s vehicles are communicating more than ever. Here are some of the challenges we have observed in this industry.

When the power comes on, the system head unit is the first to boot. What the user sees first, besides the dash default display, is the infotainment console – and in a most cases, the image from the reverse camera. A strict requirement in Europe is to display this within 3 seconds of vehicle power up.

From the perspective of system internals, this means the file system and flash must mount very quickly. Only a very small portion of these three seconds is available here – the rest are used to mount an OS kernel and bring up other system resources. There is no time to resynchronize a journal or catalog each flash region. Datalight software is designed to meet these requirements at both the file system and flash driver level.

Vehicle consumers expect some of the same experience in their car as on their smart phones. This includes the latest version of software and installable applications – with both available over-the-air. Embedded software updates can be risky, especially in an environment where power is not guaranteed. The ideal system would perform the software update on blocks not in use for the media, then switch to the new system in one operation. Reliance Nitro does this and more.

Security is being talked about a lot, and covers many things for automotive. One of these is the security of networks, keeping packets confidential and preventing malware injection. As we approach drive by wire, this one is really important! Talked about less but of equal concern is the confidentiality of user data. When you sell your car, you don’t want your private data going with it! Today’s eMMC media provides a Secure Delete option to remove data from the media completely. Datalight products support this hardware completely, allowing full application control of these important functions.

One important topic receiving a lot of press in other embedded devices is the shrinking lifetime of the flash media. NAND flash, the internal storage on many devices and automotive embedded as well, has a limited life span which is measured in program/erase cycles. Software designed to understand this can reduce the amount of write amplification, or in other words minimize the additional write cycles generated by each media write. Once again, Datalight’s software stack comes through for the automotive embedded designer.

While these may be new challenges for the automotive market, they are for the most part old challenges for the embedded world. You don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel (pun intended) when there are suppliers such as Datalight with a proven track record and industry recognized customer support.

Read more about Datalight Automotive Solutions

Thom Denholm | July 9, 2013 | Automotive, Datalight Products, Flash File System, Flash Memory Manager | Leave a comment

Wish Granted

OEM customers have told us for years that struggles with NAND supply and lack of standards costs them a great deal of time and money. A shortage or EOL on a key component like NAND flash memory can cause product delivery delays that impact topline revenue and potentially company reputation. What they wish for is a “plug and play” option that lets them multi-source their flash memory. For years Datalight has provided a software standard to make parts switching less painful, but the lack of hardware standards continued to plague our customers.

As you might expect, many are excited by eMMC because it promises to address a big concern with supply chain and parts availability. By adopting this hardware “standard”, OEM’s believe they will be free from vendor lock in – that is compelling. They and their ODM suppliers can source parts from whichever vendor is closer, has available supply or is easiest to work with. Powerful stuff for negotiating cost of goods.

However, the inconvenient truth is that though eMMC is a hardware standard that ensures pin-compatible alternatives from a plethora of suppliers, there are so many exceptions and vendor-specific variants that substantial software modifications are still required. You will likely find a driver from a BSP provider that enables their board or processor to work with eMMC – at the most basic level. This purpose-built software will be provided in un-modifiable binary form written expeditiously to “check the box” for eMMC support. It is unlikely that the supplied driver will work as-is with special capabilities in parts from another vendor (or even with the next die shrink of the first vendor’s parts!) Then starts the quest to either get the software updated by the BSP provider or negotiate for source code access and invest in making the changes yourself. Can you say “schedule impact”?

Another potential shortcoming was pointed out to me recently by a long time FlashFX customer — “how do you know how effective the wear-leveling is when it’s all done inside the black box?”

Ideally, the driver you use with your eMMC should be intelligent enough to assess the vendor-specific features available, the wear-leveling effectiveness and be provided in source code so you can make any modifications for as-yet-undefined capabilities of your hardware. And if you could have everything you wished for, the driver would be written by flash-vendor-neutral software and flash technology experts. Hmmm. I think I know some of those.


KerriMcConnell | July 1, 2013 | Datalight Products, Flash Memory, Flash Memory Manager, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Software Power Consumption

One of the questions we received at Datalight is whether our software affects the power consumption of embedded devices. Not being power experts ourselves, we found an intern and faculty advisor from our nearby University of Washington to help us out with the process. After a little research, we also selected the PicoScope as the best solution for measuring the power.

As part of the final conclusions of this project, our intern Cameron wrote up his findings, which have now been published on the Pico Technology website –

The comparisons reflected in that article represent a version of our FlashFXe product that was in production at the time. The use case measured (SQLite operations) is the one targeted for improvement by our software. By writing the eMMC media in the most optimal fashion, FlashFXe generates fewer erases and uses less power. Each access to the media does more meaningful work in a more optimal way. At the media level, this also increases the dwell time, which in general has been shown to decrease the bit error rate over time, and may also improve long term data retention.

Datalight continues to research ways where software changes can improve the hardware experience for our customers.

Find out more about Datalight's FlashFXe

Thom Denholm | June 17, 2013 | Datalight Products, Extended Flash Life, Flash Memory, Flash Memory Manager | Leave a comment

Design West 2013

Design West 2013 was held last week in San Jose. The phrase of the show was “Internet of Things”, and plenty of new hardware was in evidence.

The Design West keynotes this year were full of fascinating applications of technology and blessedly devoid of the usual product pitches. Luke Dubord shared his experiences in autonomous systems development for the Mars Rover. Thirteen point eight minutes to receive acknowledgement of a command sent to the space vehicle serves to emphasize the importance of getting things right the first time and provides a valuable perspective that really brought home the definition of “mission critical” systems design. I missed the Wednesday keynote, but heard good things about Mayim Bialik’s talk on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education. The percentage of women at the show was noticeably increased from prior years. It is inspiring to see the progress made in our industry. Thursday’s keynote had me in awe of how technology is changing lives for the better with advances in prosthetic design. The potential to integrate electronics into the human body to replace missing limbs takes me back to my childhood of watching the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman.

San Jose Convention Center under construction "Andy" Android figure

Although the convention center was under construction, there was plenty of space to contain this Embedded Systems Conference. All the usual platforms and environments were in evidence, with Freescale’s i.MX6 a popular target. AMD announced the new G series System on Chip, and Wind River announced their new Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS) platform.

The BeagleBone Black and Raspberry Pi were also in evidence, of course. One unusual platform this year was the Programmable Beanie. These sessions were all held on the first day, and were packed with excited programmers.

CapNet InstructorCapNet Programmers in session

Mentor Graphics had an eye-catching series of displays. These consisted of a see-through LCD panel in front of a rotating car, which made this automotive panel display look truly 3D. Mentor has made some big moves into the automotive environment recently, with online presentations and web seminars. At Design West, they also announced their latest Sourcery CodeBench Virtual Edition.

Mentor Graphics booth

Mentor Graphics display at Design West

As mentioned earlier, security was a big theme at this show. Two conference tracks were directly related to secure embedded, including the Black Hat summit. With secure hardware, the next step is secure software, such as the support for Secure File delete in Datalight’s Reliance Nitro.

Security a big focus

Security a big focus

Next year’s show is earlier in the calendar, starting the end of March. Datalight will be in attendance at the next big Bay Area embedded show, Flash Memory Summit in August.

Thom Denholm | May 1, 2013 | Automotive, Flash Industry Info | Leave a comment

Comparing Two Protocols for USB Devices

The USB Mass Storage class (also called UMS) is a protocol that allows a device connected through USB (Universal Serial Bus) to become accessible to a host computing device. This allows file transfers between the device and the desktop, as long as the file system used on the device is known to the desktop. One common example of this is the FAT file system. Other file systems can be supported through an external driver. An example of this is a device formatted with Reliance Nitro can be accessed through the Reliance Nitro Windows Driver (RNWD) on a Windows host.

To the host machine, the USB device appears similar to an external hard drive, enabling drag-and-drop file transfers. In fact the host has exclusive access to the media shared through this USB Mass Storage class. The connection happens below the file system layer – the physical media is revealed through this protocol. All transfers are done on a media block basis, and all metadata writes are separate from file data writes.

This can cause a few problems, especially when a transfer is interrupted. To truly prevent corruption, the host computer must release access to the device before it is disconnected. Often the software on the device cannot access the media while any transfer is in operation. One example of this is Android, which warns you that applications and data stored on the SD card will be inaccessible.

Another option which is gaining popularity is the Media Transfer Protocol, or MTP. This is an extension of the Picture Transfer Protocol which was originally developed for cameras. A host computer equipped with MTP will be able to communicate with the device at a layer above the file system with basic packet transfer commands. The unit of storage is a local file rather than a media block. The target device can use whatever file system is required for the device, and the device can access that file system simultaneous with the host computer with no fear of corruption.

In some ways this makes the Media Transfer Protocol rather like a transactional file system – either the entire file is written or nothing is. In most cases, the storage media is not affected by failed transfers, because the protocol on the device side handles this properly. This works especially well with the Reliance Nitro transactional file system. A customer implementing MTP on their device can use the Dynamic Transaction Points of Reliance Nitro to perform a manual transaction after each completed MTP transfer. Best of all, file data and metadata writes can be done at the same time, in an atomic fashion.

In summary, Datalight’s software works with both of these standard protocols. The improvements and advantages of Media Transfer Protocol make it the superior solution for embedded devices.

Learn more about Reliance Nitro

Thom Denholm | March 20, 2013 | Consumer Mobile, Consumer Other, Reliability | Leave a comment

Managed NAND Performance: It’s All About Use Case

Last week the UK journal PC Pro published an interesting article about fast SD cards, with a good description of the SD card Class system. With some clever testing, they show how six cards perform in a continuous shooting situation.

These tests also demonstrate how the SD card manufacturers have customized their firmware to handle sequential write cases. A class 10 card requires a minimum of 10 MB/sec throughput, and a supplemental rating system for Ultra High Speed (UHS) indicates a higher clock rate and correspondingly higher transfer rate. For the larger frame sizes (12 megapixel photos, HD video) high transfer rates are a requirement. The resulting data is almost always sequential, which matches the firmware characteristics well.

This article brings out one more interesting point. The authors point out that the performance measurements from using an SD card in a desktop system don’t always reflect the use case. They end up performing their tests using an actual camera, thereby getting as close to the use case as possible.

For an application which uses random I/O (such as tablets and other Android devices), these firmware optimizations aren’t necessary. In some cases, such optimizations actually lower random I/O performance. Similar firmware shows up in eMMC media as well. A software solution (such as FlashFXe) can adjust much of the I/O to be more sequential and more closely match the optimized performance.

At Embedded World a few weeks ago we recorded our demonstration showing the benefits of our new FlashFXe product on eMMC.

Watch our FlashFXe Demo Video Here

Thom Denholm | March 15, 2013 | Flash Memory, Flash Memory Manager, Performance | Leave a comment

Even When Not Using a Database, You Are Still Using a Database

Recently, we’ve focused considerable development effort on improving database performance for embedded devices, specifically for Android. This is because Android is a particularly database-centric environment.

On an Android platform, each application is equipped with its own SQLite database. Data stored here is accessible by any class in the application, but not by outside applications. The database is entirely self-contained and server-less, while still being transactional and still using the standard SQL language for executing queries. With this approach, a crash in one application (the dreaded “force close” message) will not affect the data store of any other application. While fantastic for protection, this method is quite often implemented on flash media, which was designed for large sequential reads and writes.

For years, benchmarks have touted the pure performance of a drive through large sequential reads and writes. On managed flash media, the firmware programmers have responded by optimizing for this use case – at the expense of the random I/O used by most databases, including SQLite. Another challenge is the very high ratio of flushes performed by the database (sometimes 1:1). The majority of database writes are not done on sector boundaries – especially problematic for flash media which must write an entire block.

While there are a few unified “flash file systems” for Linux such as YAFFS and JFFS2, designed specifically for flash memory, they have fallen out of favor because they do not plug neatly into the standard software stack, and therefore cannot take advantage of standard Linux features such as the system cache. While traditional file systems such as VFAT and Ext2/3/4 can work with flash, they are not designed with that purpose in mind, and therefore their performance and reliability suffers. For example, discard support has largely been tacked onto Linux file systems, and is still considered to be somewhat experimental. To quote the Linux v3.5 Ext4 documentation, discard support is “off by default until sufficient testing has been done.” Another example: file systems on flash memory typically benefit from using a copy-on-write design, which ext4 does not use. The reality is that most file systems are designed for desktop (and often server) environments, where high resource usage is OK, and power-loss is infrequent.

Our solution to improving database performance on flash memory is to provide a more unified solution where the various pieces of the stack work in a cohesive fashion. Furthermore, the solution is specifically designed for embedded systems using flash memory, where power-loss is a common event. Datalight’s Reliance Nitro file system is a transactional, copy-on-write file system, designed from the ground up to support flash memory discards and power-loss safe operations.

The result of our work in this area is FlashFXe, a new Datalight product built on our many years of experience managing raw NAND, but designed for eMMC. When used together with Reliance Nitro, almost all write operations become sequential and aligned on sector boundaries for the highest performance. Internal operations are more efficiently organized for the copy-on-write nature of flash media. A multi-tiered approach allows small random writes with very frequent flushes to be efficiently handled while maintaining power-loss safe operations.

This month at Embedded World, we will be demonstrating the results of our efforts to improve database performance on embedded devices using Android. Prepare to be impressed!

Learn more about FlashFXe

Thom Denholm | February 12, 2013 | Datalight Products, Flash File System, Performance | Leave a comment