Unlikely Pair: Disaster Recovery and Secure Erase

By Jon Tanguy - 2015-10-08

Right up front, you’re probably asking, “What in the world do disaster recovery and secure data erase have to do with each other?”  Well, I’m glad you asked.

The New World of NAND Flash

With data traveling today’s world at lightning speeds, solid state drives (SSDs) are replacing hard disk drives (HDDs) in numerous applications — from notebook computers, to server storage, to main storage in networked arrays.  SSDs bring performance and reliability superior to HDDs under typical circumstances, but what about under more “abnormal” circumstances? For instance, how do they act when recovering data in the event of a device failure — or when attempting to securely and permanently erase data? In these types of circumstances, SSDs can provide great advantages — but also pose special challenges — when compared to older HDD technology.  In this post, I’ll talk a bit about data recovery and secure erase, as well as how these seemingly unrelated functions intersect in some interesting ways and how Micron is addressing the challenges of both.

Wanted: Data Recovery

Even for a relatively expensive storage device, the data stored onboard is almost always much more valuable than the device itself. From proprietary intellectual property to irreplaceable family photos, SSDs store data people simply cannot afford to lose.  While it’s true that SSDs will fail at rates significantly lower than HDDs, even the most reliable products fail on occasion.  In these cases, we want to be able to recover the data.

When Data Recovery Is Not Wanted

On the other hand, there are times when a business or an individual wants to retire or redeploy an SSD:  perhaps a laptop is assigned to a new employee or an older computer is donated to a local school or library. When these events happen, we need to ensure that valuable data doesn’t move on with the device. In this scenario, we want to ensure that we CANNOT recover the data!

Where Two Worlds Meet

It turns out that recovering and erasing data are related in many ways.  The engineers and technologists who are capable of heroic efforts to recover data from disastrous failure are the same ones who can determine if data is truly gone and unrecoverable when it’s intentionally erased.

At Micron, we’re confident that we’ve provided means to completely and irretrievably erase all the data from our SSDs, given that the correct erase commands are sent to the drives. But we understand that, in many cases, customers need more than just our word that the data is completely erased. That’s why we have a neutral third party validate our secure erase process for us.

Micron is also participating in an industry effort to improve methods of recovering data from SSDs that have failed. There’s a common belief that recovering data from failed SSDs is a difficult — if not impossible — task.  Fortunately, this is not the case.  Even today, data recovery firms have a surprisingly high success rate for SSD data recovery.  But, we can always get better. So we’re working with firms like Kroll-Ontrack and Drive Savers to leverage their vast HDD data recovery experience with our NAND flash expertise to improve the success rates for disaster recovery from those rare SSD failures.

We’re also actively involved in the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) — where the worlds of data erase and disaster recovery meet. Micron was one of the first members of SNIA’s Data Recover/Erase Special Interest Group (DR/E SIG). Members of DR/E include leading storage device manufacturers, data recovery experts and concerned data storage users, ensuring both sides of the coin: that data is recoverable in a disaster and that intentionally erased data is truly and verifiably gone.

Breaking Ground, Exploring New Worlds

The work we’re doing as members of SNIA’s DR/E SIG to help improve disaster recovery will help us better design future Micron products and continue to improve product reliability. When we learn to better recover from disaster, we can learn to better avoid disaster in the first place!

At the same time, we’re exploring new data erase features.  We now well-understand how to completely wipe a drive.  The next frontier for data erase will be to selectively and securely erase individual files and folders from the targeted SSD.  Today, when you delete a file from your Micron SSD, we can tell you with certainty that your data will be permanently erased.  However, because of the way SSD garbage collection works, we can’t tell you with certainty when the data will be erased.  We think that the work we’re doing with the DR/E SIG will help solve this quandary in the very near future.

So, as unlikely as it may seem, disaster recovery and secure erase actually are related topics.  Micron’s SSD engineers are working hard to ensure that both of these functions are designed to keep your data secure.

Cyber Security Awareness Month: How Aware Are You?

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month in the United States. We’ll be exploring more data storage security topics each week this month, so stay tuned. You can also follow @MicronStorage on Twitter where we’re always discussing data storage and other technology-related topics.

Jon Tanguy

Jon Tanguy

Jon is a Senior Technical Marketing Engineer for Micron's Storage Business Unit, with a focus on client solid state drives.