Intel, Storage, Bitrot, and Cosmic Rays

Intel is proving once again to be the innovators we’ve known them to be since inception. I don’t honestly know how they do it, but the quiet and unassuming talent at this amazing organization consistently takes such a broad approach to the intelligence they build into their products that I find myself both overwhelmed and impressed by them.

At Storage Field Day 9 ( #SFD9 ) our group had the incredible opportunity to get inside the technology thought process that has been driving the solid state team to create such consistently excellent products. Here’s the link to the video Delivery was given by Vinod Ambrose, Senior Staff Engineer of Intel.

This “Out of the Box” thinking prompted a long conversation on the effect of Cosmic Rays on the data residing on all discs, but for the purposes of this conversation, SSD.

The concept of “FlipBit,” which is the notion that a piece of binary data can be somehow changed from a zero to a one or vice-versa seems somehow to account for data corruption within data stored on disc. These errors are due, apparently, in some part to Alpha Particles or neutrons in Gamma Rays. What we learned is that these particles hit all of us, and our equipment fairly constantly, and that the percentage at which discs get effected by the flipbit phenomenon is actually measurable has been and has been diminished quite drastically by engineers at Intel. Measurements are taken at various labs throughout the country, most notably, the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, which Intel considers the “Gold Standard” in testing radiation sources. They also used to use the Cyclotron at Indiana University, which has since been decommissioned. Obviously testing is far beyond the norm on these discs.

So, is there silent data corruption? Depends on whether the drive was able to restart after hanging upon errors. Intel has perfected technology in which Silent Data corruption is less than .1%/year and Brick rate is less than .01% per year. Truly better statistics than non-intel SSD at an Enterprise level, and far better than consumer level discs.

Again, Intel has proven that Software on Silicon, within the firmware of these discs is one of the key criteria. When OEMing these discs to other vendors, the firmware is not entirely the same.

This was a very interesting presentation, and the upshot is that not all SSD’s are the same, and we all were reconfirmed on the fact that Bow Ties are cool.


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