Solid-State Drives Are Driving Data Recovery Developments

Friday, October 1, 2010 by The Data Experts

Solid-state drive (SSD) technology was initially developed for military use and later appeared in the consumer storage industry in products such as MP3 players, USB flash/pen drives and the memory cards used in camcorders and cameras. SSD is now beginning to revolutionize the data storage industry, and is increasingly used in mobile devices and as an option for replacing traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) in top-of-the-line notebook, laptop and desktop computers.

HDD and SSD: What’s the Difference?

In contrast to HDDs, which use quickly spinning platters with magnetic surfaces to store digitally encoded data, SSDs have no moving parts. Rather than a magnetic or optical storage medium, SSDs use a solid-state semiconductor such as battery-backed EPROM, RAM or other electrically erasable RAM such as memory chips. Most SSDs use nonvolatile NAND flash memory, which enables them to retain data when the power is removed. Because SSDs do not require synchronizing moving parts, they allow quicker boot-up, application launch and file loading and can move data quickly, while consuming less energy, yielding better efficiency and a longer battery life.

HDD Data: Easier to Lose, Easier to Find

Hard disk drives are susceptible to deterioration due to the natural wear of the mechanical parts. Hard drive failures occur in two types: logical failures such as formatting errors, accidentally deleted files, corrupted data, missing partitions or software errors, and mechanical failures resulting from physical damage to the drive. Luckily, recovering data from hard disk drives is generally simple and fast, and whether the failure is logical or mechanical, it is often possible to recover the data successfully.

SSD Data: Reliable, but Not Invincible

In contrast to HDDs, SSDs are highly durable and less prone to mechanical failure. They are rugged enough to withstand shock, temperature fluctuations and physical vibration without sacrificing data integrity or suffering data loss (also making them ideal for mobile devices). However, data loss can occur because of electrical damage, firmware corruption, endurance damage and controller failure. Human error can still result in accidentally deleted files, virus attacks and even physical damage under extreme conditions.

Paperless Chase: Keeping Up With New Technology

Technology advancements have made data recovery, collections and investigations more challenging and decreased the likelihood of recovering deleted or erased data. Data recovery experts are therefore investing considerable resources in developing defensible and effective ways to meet the new challenges of SSD data recovery.

Depending on the SSD, the innate operation of the drive itself complicates recovery. Because solid-state drives have limited write cycles, most manufacturers now integrate “wear leveling” techniques to evenly distribute information across random blocks of the memory chip and maximize the life span of the drive. In a solid-state drive, a block containing data to modify must be erased before it can be rewritten (unlike an HDD, which can simply overwrite data). Over time, as files are written, moved, deleted and replaced, many blocks are left holding “orphaned” or “garbage” data, which degrades drive space availability and wear leveling. Thus, many SSDs use advanced algorithms to perform “garbage collections” and thereby improve write performance. While improving the functionality of the drive, these algorithms decrease the likelihood of recovering deleted data. For this reason, some SSDs are specifically designed to defeat forensic recovery efforts. In these devices, which were originally designed for military purposes, data destruction is part of the product design. Data recovery experts must thus often rely on proprietary methods to solve flash and SSD data loss problems, and the speed and quality of recovery depend on understanding the technology and managing storage challenges.

Although recovering and collecting data from solid-state drives is relatively new territory, many service providers already have the necessary tools and expertise. With time, as familiarity with the technology increases, the time and expense of conducting the more complicated procedures will likely decrease, and the only remaining question will be how to handle the next new technology, whatever it may be.

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