Future of memory technology means more ITAD challenges

Data security is crucial for businesses today — it’s equally important for SMBs all the way up to large enterprise. Furthermore, advancements in memory technology — focused on speed, size, and data density — bring along with them new forms of non-volatile data storage. Protecting our clients’ brands, reputation, and data is core to what we do here at Sipi Asset Recovery.

In an earlier blog, we covered the new wave of high capacity storage devices and the challenges they bring to data security. These are arriving to the marketplace in the form of MAMR (microwave-assisted-magnetic recording) drives as well as HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) drives. Tried-and-true methods of secure destruction for these ultra-high-capacity drives, such as shredding or degaussing, are at least decreasing in effectiveness… and at worst, simply ineffective.

ReRAM chip

Beyond the “hard drive” 

So far, we’ve looked in-depth at new technologies that will allow for simply incredible information density on the new generation of storage drives. But what about the rest of the machine? Whether it’s a server, laptop, workstation, or otherwise — it’s getting more and more difficult to easily determine which components are non-volatile, data bearing components.

For example, a technology that has been in widespread use for many years is that of NAND SSDs. These types of data bearing media utilize flash memory, and often come in the rectangular “drive” format we’re used to. However, many newer SSDs utilize a format called M.2, a motherboard slot that can be used for other hardware as well such as wireless networking adapters.

These drives look very much like a RAM stick, but unlike RAM, these devices act as media storage and retain their data after a power loss. Plus, there’s  “3D NAND” SSDs that increase data density to ever-smaller form factors. Think 1 terabyte on a data-bearing device, much smaller and thinner than your traditional SSD, slotted right onto the motherboard. Or, an extremely tiny chip on your smartphone that holds up to 256 gigabytes of data.

Combine these factors with the complexity introduced by motherboard manufacturers in terms of the sizes, shapes, and component placements — and you have a scenario where data-bearing components can easily be missed. Some of those devices now much smaller than before, with greater data density than before.

However, the complexities don’t end there.

The future of flash memory

In 2019, data and memory storage technologies researched decades ago are finally beginning to reach fruition, working in a constant push for a better data storage solution. Today’s datacenters require faster transfer speeds, especially to power machine learning, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence applications. This means storage must become speedier, smaller, denser, more resilient, and more efficient. With these improvements comes unprecedented variety… and new challenges for data destruction and sanitization.

MRAM / STT-MRAM

You are likely already familiar with DRAM or SRAM. RAM, or “Random Access Memory,” requires power to sustain the data it holds. Generally, read and write speeds in RAM are quite fast, and thus why it’s used in specific applications, such as for CMOS memory or main memory. If you’ve ever upgraded your laptop or PC with “more RAM,” then chances are it was a stick of DRAM, like DDR4 laptop memory. (Some hardware has its memory hardwired to the board, too.) However, DRAM and SRAM technology has its drawbacks: it’s volatile memory — meaning it doesn’t hold data after power is lost — plus the desire for faster speeds, lower latency, and higher data density marches on. Enter STT-MRAM.

STT-MRAM is not necessarily a new concept; in fact, the idea is decades old. But it’s coming to fruition now as a serious alternative to traditional memory types. STT-MRAM stands for “spin-transfer torque magnetic random access memory.” A basic way of explaining the “spin” portion is that MRAM uses the magnetic properties of electron spin to provide speedy memory storage. In STT-MRAM, a memory cell utilizes a magnetic tunnel junction, technology that has been used as read head in hard disk drives (HDDs) for many years.

Why is the industry eager to adopt STT-MRAM? Why are companies like Everspin Technologies growing and increasing production of this new form of memory? The benefits are many: scalability, endurance speed, data density, and physical size. Notably, STT-MRAM uses only one transistor — meaning it’s smaller and can create cost efficiencies as well as performance boosts. Also notable is that STT-MRAM, unlike DRAM or SRAM, is non-volatile. This means that it can hold data indefinitely rather than being purged when powered off.

ReRAMReRAM-2

ReRAM, also known as “Redox-based resistive switching random access memory” and like MRAM, is non-volatile. This means it can hold data indefinitely and is not purged when power is lost. It’s also called “memristor” by some. ReRAM has been available for years in IoT devices, and is expecting use in embedded applications.

The successful rollout of ReRAM has encountered setbacks over the years. But big names such as Fujitsu and Panasonic, HP and Sandisk, and several others are developing the technology — to replace and fill in gaps left by traditional flash and DRAM, and even specifically for use as non-volatile storage.

Phase Change Memory / PCM / PRAM

Phase Change Memory, also known as PCM or PRAM, is yet another type of non-volatile memory, with some experts stating that they could or should also be considered memristors. At the core of phase change memory is chalcogenide glass and its unique properties; that through quickly changing the phase of the glass from an amorphous solid to a crystal structure, it can be used to store data. Think of a thermal process (heat) switching the phase; this would switch the state of the bit (0 or 1)

PCM is interesting to the industry due to its incredibly fast performance compared to hard disk drives and conventional flash, not to mention they don’t degrade as quickly. Flash memory eventually wears out after enough writes are made — this is commonly known, so much so that many SSDs ship with software to help manage the life of the drive. Comparatively, given normal operating conditions, a data-bearing asset utilizing PCM could retain data for 300 years. That’s a long time — and this technology is already being used in storage applications such as 3D Xpoint.

intel-Optane

3D Xpoint

The 3D Xpoint technology (said as “crosspoint”), developed by Intel and Micron Technology, turns your average NAND SSD upside down, well faster than the very fastest of them all. It’s also one of the first available storage solutions based on phase-change technology.

Micron’s X100 SSD, announced in October 2019, is a familiar looking device with some not-so-familiar technology under the hood that Micron claims gives it “1,000 times lower latency and exponentially greater endurance than NAND [flash].” The X100 is expected to see use in datacenters due to its benefits for artificial intelligence and data analytics applications.

In fact, Intel’s Optane solutions — also which use 3D Xpoint technology — are already in use in real world datacenters. Optane memory is also available for consumer devices, supplementing DRAM and increasing performance of traditional SSDs or HDDs. 3D Xpoint storage technology, also, is non-volatile and will retain data after power is lost.

What does all this mean for ITAD and secure destruction?

Truly, the data storage technology we have today — and that looms on the horizon — is impressive. But what does it mean for the future of IT asset disposition?

The truth is, there’s many unanswered questions to the challenges that lie ahead. The vast variety of new storage technology is likely to proliferate not only in the data storage world, but also on motherboards and embedded devices… plus in datacenters around the world. Here’s some items to consider.

Current data sanitization standards may not address specific needs pertaining to data-bearing assets that utilize, or will utilize, these new technologies. Take the well-established and accepted NIST industry standard, for example. In many if not most cases today, the NIST data sanitization standards effectively address security and compliance needs while also remaining cost-effective and efficient. However, while it specifically calls out SSDs, NVMe SSDs, traditional hard drives, DRAM, and other widely used technologies — what about phase change technology? STT-MRAM? The standards themselves acknowledge that “new storage technologies… that are dramatically different from legacy magnetic media will clearly require sanitization research and require a reinvestigation of sanitization procedures to ensure efficacy.”

In addition to dramatically different storage and memory technologies calling sanitization effectiveness into question, there’s the data density issue. As we’ve covered, one of the main goals of moving data storage tech forward is to increase density while decreasing size. This means that smaller and smaller chips will contain larger and larger amounts of data. Shredding those devices would almost certainly be ineffective. Plus, securely wiping the drives is likely to be more time and resource consuming than ever before, further increasing the cost of sanitization. Researchers have already acknowledged this problem with 3D NAND based chips — even stating that while existing methods can achieve security requirements, they also bring “performance and disturbance” problems along with the high erase latency.

The ultimate phase change: 100% destruction

It’s our goal at Sipi Asset Recovery to create unique solutions to these kinds of problems in the IT asset disposition world. One such solution is our proprietary FIREMELT™ process, powered by our skill and experience in the metals industry. One could think of it as the “ultimate” phase change.

11B

FIREMELT™ is, at its core, a pyrometallurgical process that liquifies the data and components of
IT assets in a homogenous molten metal bath
. Liquification ensures the data-bearing assets — even those using a wide variety of metals or with incredibly high data density — are effectively destroyed. These devices are turned into a completely unusable, molten form from which data cannot be recovered. Furthermore, the metal ingots that result from the process can be recycled for use in creating new products.

For the future, partner with Sipi

  • Are you concerned about the future of storage technology, and how it will impact your ITAD plans?
  • Is your business or datacenter beginning adoption of the newest, most advanced storage and memory options available today?
  • Curious about the 100% secure destruction only FIREMELT™ can provide for your most sensitive data?

Contact us to learn more about where the future of ITAD will take you, and the true meaning of partnership!

Topics: What's New in ITAD, Secure Data Destruction