What makes a great Industrial Embedded Flash Storage Supplier?

I’m often asked, “What makes a great Industrial Embedded Flash Storage Supplier?” First, a definition.An Industrial Embedded Flash Storage device is targeted at OEM applications which require something more than an off the shelf consumer flash card from an online or retail outlet. These applications tend to be industrial, medical, automotive, telecom and many others of a critical nature.

Industrial Embedded Flash Storage is the focus of Cactus Technologies. There are several key items which make a great supplier in this area. Lowest cost is not one of them. If an OEM is sourcing the lowest cost flash storage for their application, they are NOT getting the most reliable solution.

Below are a few of the key attributes of a highly reliable supplier of Industrial Embedded Flash Storage Devices. These device come in numerous form factors such as SLC CompactFlashSLC SD CardsSLC CFast and others.

Widest Geometry NAND (aka Oldest):

It seems counterintuitive, but the older the NAND flash, the more reliable it is. This is because it has a wider trace width, larger oxide layer and larger NAND flash cells with more separation between them. The larger cells and separation comes with the benefits of longer endurance, less cross-talk, greater data retention and better reliability at temperature extremes.

The latest NAND flash generally offers the highest performance and best cost per GB, but it comes with limited endurance and is not suitable for applications where failure can be catastrophic or expensive to remedy.

Long Life Cycles & Locked-BOM Control:

The strategy for the mainstream flash storage suppliers is getting the latest memory into the market as soon as possible. The company that wins this battle has a cost advantage until the next competitor leap frogs them.

In the Industrial world, locking the BOM (i.e. not making any changes to the firmware, controller or flash silicon) ensures stability of the production process which was put through extensive qualification testing for 6 - 18 months in some cases. In addition to locking the BOM, this same BOM (Bill-Of-Material) must be held for as long as possible without change. In many cases, Cactus is able to hold the BOM for 5 – 10 years on our Industrial Grade products.

Integrity of Components and Production Processes:

Controllers manage the NAND flash inside the flash storage devices. There are controllers designed to offer the lowest cost needed to meet a retail price point and there are controllers designed for extreme reliability across any condition. A true Industrial supplier always uses the highest reliability controller available for his design.

I-temp SLC NAND is offered by a couple NAND manufacturers for a premium price. A supplier with integrity will only use these memory components in their Industrial Grade devices sold as extended temperature. This is the Cactus policy. What we see as a common practice by some suppliers is to use non I-temp NAND components and sell them as extended temp.

For MLC NAND, there is limited supply of I-temp parts direct from the NAND manufacturers. In these cases a burn-in process must be in place to ensure operation at extended temp. 100% of the parts need to be pass through this process as is the Cactus policy.

Sales & Technical Support:

For applications which need to last many years in harsh environments, a real support team including sales to help the OEM choose the right product and configuration for their application and pre/post sales technical support to ensure everything is working ideally in the system are paramount.

The sales person for a consumer flash card may not be aware of any of the attributes of his product. In many cases it’s, “What is the part number? Here is your price.” Technical support from the consumer guys is usually limited to “It should work in that camera.” What happens when an issue presents itself?

Other Items of Interest:

Industrial suppliers provide custom labeling, Mfg ID, configurations and other unique features when the situation makes sense. Timely support and providing second to none service is also important.

At Cactus Technologies, we live and breathe Industrial Embedded applications. If you are an OEM requiring the best supplier for your embedded application, please contact a Cactus Technologies’ Expert.

Steve Larrivee has over 30 year's experience in the data storage market, including 5 years at Seagate Technology and 10 years at SanDisk. He joined Cactus Technologies Limited as an equity partner and Co-Founded Cactus USA in 2007 with partner Tom Aguillon. Learn more about Steve on LinkedIn.