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Securing Data on NAND Flash Media

In an interesting article on security from Warren Kurisu titled Securing Data on Connected Embedded Devices, he discusses three situations where embedded devices need to protect data – when at rest, when in use, and when in transit. Datalight software can help protect the “data in use” case, including addressing an often overlooked vulnerability.

NAND flash media has become the standard storage media for embedded devices, either as raw flash chips, contained in devices such as eMMC and SD cards or as part of an SOC. In order to modify data on any NAND flash media, a copy is first made in memory, then modified and stored to a new NAND block. At this point, there are two copies of the secure data on the device – to ensure data security the original copy must be securely erased.

On eMMC media, the firmware provides secure operations that can be used to remove those blocks. We have discussed these operations before on our blog. Datalight’s Reliance Nitro is still the only file system that utilizes these secure operations on eMMC media. Another alternative is the Sanitize command, which securely erases any pending deleted blocks, whether or not they contain secure data. (Questions have arisen about the performance impact of that approach. Stay tuned for a report on an analysis of this aspect that Datalight is working on.)

Can the same thing be done on raw flash media? Absolutely!

Datalight’s FlashFX Tera has an API to request a compaction, which is an operation used to erase pending blocks. This is very similar to the eMMC firmware Sanitize operation. We are also considering adding the more direct operations of secure trim and secure delete to FlashFX Tera.

Reliance Nitro also provides features that help address the “data at rest” situations mentioned in Warren’s article. A full set of OEM attributes are supported and stored in the common disk format, available for any RTOS utilized by our customers. These attributes can be used to isolate data between users and groups on the same device or over any connections this device participates in. And of course, our customers can (and many have) plug in their own encryption module using Reliance Nitro APIs designed for this purpose.

Does your design rely on the ability to secure – and securely erase – data?

Learn more about the Reliance Nitro file system

Thom Denholm | December 17, 2014 | Datalight Products, Flash Industry Info, Security | Leave a comment

ARM Tech Con 2014

Arm TechCon logo

This conference was all about ARM, from a history of ARM (nearly 30 years, starting with the Acorn and Newton) through the newest systems challenges to Safety and Security. The mbed OS looks interesting – developed by ARM, this RTOS has power management, many different connectivity stacks and other components.

The Internet of Things was of course a major topic, and we enjoyed hearing about all the storage needed at the edge of the network. From data analytics to logging and cloud interface, it looks like MCUs will need a reliable file system for the best solution. Also interesting was the plan for MCU firmware updates in the field – they plan to provide a Flash area big enough for 2 copies of the application and a bootloader. Only one copy is updated, and the bootloader identifies the newest valid application and executes it.

There was a definite focus on energy use and efficiency. Some of the incredibly low-power (or low current) applications described were an ARM solar powered micro server. These harsh environment capable devices will be key in the third world. Especially fascinating was Jack Ganssle’s session on Ultra-Low Power design and debunking the 20 year life claim of coin cell devices.

RoySherrill | October 16, 2014 | Flash Industry Info, RTOS | Leave a comment

Making FAT reliable

Datalight developers know the danger of power interruption on embedded devices, and we also know the FAT file system well. In my 10 years as a software engineer on ROM-DOS, the internals of our FAT implementation were of daily interest. Recently, I put this knowledge to use in exploring how other developers have tried to make the legacy FAT file system more reliable while remaining exchangeable.

These operations are designed to improve the reliability of FAT media, and are somewhat successful in preventing the complete corruption of the file system data structures, but are rarely effective in protecting the user data. Some solutions can go further and, similar to Linux, can journal the user data, but these mechanisms greatly reduce performance, which is a cost too high to bear for most embedded designs.

Read more about making FAT reliable

Thom Denholm | October 14, 2014 | Reliability | Leave a comment

Designer of Things (DOT)

I just returned from the inaugural Designer of Things (DoT, like IoT) conference and it was an awesome start for a new conference focused on this key vertical market. There were two primary tracks: wearables and 3D printing. The sessions spanned the gamut from technology to make fashion, to how to build wearable devices that function 24×7. One of the key reasons I attend shows like this is to interact with a diversity of folks in our industry and after a slow start to the day (first session I was in only had 13 people in it) things picked up and by the time of the first keynote the audience had expanded to over 700.

A recurring theme for the conference was “Moving from Smart Devices to Wise Devices”, first mentioned by Gadi Amit of New Deal Designs in his Keynote on Tuesday — a great discussion of the power of the design of a new device. The focus was not on the hardware, nor on the software, but on the customer and the emotional connection with the new device from a holistic perspective. Giving the customer the best experience is the goal.

Designer of Things backdrop.jpgAnother theme was the maturing of devices as time goes on. The desire to upgrade the device and extend the functionality over time is a growing key expectation by customers. The best example, which came up often in the DoT conference, is the Tesla. Initially shipped without full functionality, the Tesla has an always on cellular connection so that software updates can be delivered seamlessly and improvements can be made often. Since initial production more than 500 updates have been delivered.

What became clear over the course of the week was that data is key, for both initial design and for continued evolution of the products. Data for design comes from potential customers and enables designers to better understand customers, their usage patterns, expectations, and preferences. Designers can perform A/B testing to identify the best feature mix, best interfaces and best interactions with customers. Data from the products informs future designs, shows what expectations were universal and which were not fully understood and which are the actual key features.

The inaugural DoT conference was a great first step. No doubt UBM will grow and enhance this conference and it will be even better next year.

RoySherrill | September 30, 2014 | Customer Industries, Flash Industry Info | Leave a comment

VxWorks 7

Datalight products have been supported on Wind River’s VxWorks environment for over a decade. As Wind River advances their operating system, Datalight enhances our products to support the latest releases. (Of course we continue to support legacy versions as far back as VxWorks 5.5.) As we finish up our integration into the VxWorks 7.0 environment we thought you might benefit from a heads up on some of the changes in Wind River’s new modular operating system environment.

One of the most significant changes from our perspective is a new distribution model for third party components – the VxWorks 7 Marketplace. The idea, according to Wind River spokesmen, is to provide their customers with an “Internet of Things” approach, a one-stop shop for in-house and OEM additions to the environment. As with many marketplaces in the physical world, this shop opened before all the shelves were complete. We expect the required changes to the Wind River build process (since VxWorks 7.0 debuted earlier this year) to be delivered at the same time as Datalight products become available in the Marketplace through a build package dependency, which should be seamless to our customers. If you need access to FlashFX Tera or Reliance Nitro for VxWorks 7 prior to the Marketplace availability, you can contact us and we’ll set you up with an independent download.

In VxWorks 7, the Datalight product build is considerably simpler. All source editing, building and debugging can be done in the VxWorks IDE. Processor build and environment are based on the BSP, and that information is now delivered to the installed package. The software developer would still want to customize the configuration files for Reliance Nitro and FlashFX Tera, especially when selecting a NAND flash part and controller. As always, unlocking the full feature set of Datalight products will still be done via a license key obtained from Datalight.

One welcome change – the FlashFX Tera build will be delivered with the NAND flash simulation project by default. Customers can now bring up the product with a block device immediately, which should allow faster integration and scalability.

In summation, we are pretty excited about this new Wind River release. The protected boot, signed images and other security options are exactly where embedded devices need to be. Modularizing the kernel means fewer “complete system” upgrades and more flexibility for OEMs and BSPs. We can’t wait for the Marketplace to go live in Q4 of this year.

Read more about Datalight's VxWorks solutions

Thom Denholm | September 4, 2014 | RTOS | Leave a comment

64 Bit Embedded

Desktop processors are universally available in 64 bit varieties, resulting in higher and faster processing power. Another major advantage of 64 bit processors include direct addressing of huge amounts of RAM. In the embedded realm, the first hardware architecture to provide 64 bit was the x86-64, provided by Intel and AMD. Later targets included MIPS and ARM.

According to market research firm Embedded Market Forecasters, use of 64-bit processors in embedded designs is increasing and they are now used in roughly 20% of projects. Embedded RTOSes that support 64 bit targets include Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Compact 7 (and 2013), Wind River’s VxWorks 6.9, Linux and of course Android. The latter environment drove much of Datalight’s 64 bit roadmap, as Google required a 64 bit development system to support Android 2.3 and above – even on 32 bit targets.

One drawback to using these faster chips is that 64 bit access requires larger pointers – which doubles the data and stack space requirements. This cost is strongly felt in embedded designs, where RAM can be at a premium. Conditional compilation was a required solution here.

Most of the changes required for 64-bit support were fairly standard, although extensive. From a technical standpoint, these processors have a new mode of operation – long mode. In this mode, 64 bit applications and operating systems can be used, along with a 32 bit compatibility mode. Also available is legacy mode, which maintains 100% compatibility for 32 bit applications and operating systems.

Datalight products released with full 64 bit support include Reliance Nitro, FlashFX Tera, FlashFXe, and our Windows desktop File System Exchangeability driver for Reliance Nitro.

Thom Denholm | June 30, 2014 | Android, Datalight Products, Flash File System, Flash Memory Manager, Performance | Leave a comment

Flash Friendly File Systems

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to speak at Embedded World 2014 on the topic of Flash Friendly File Systems. Flash media is growing by leaps and bounds, and the chosen file system is a key component. For this paper, I drew on both my own development and support experience at Datalight and the experience of our staff.

The paper we put together describes the important aspects to be considered before selecting a file system which will treat the flash media in the best possible manner. We looked at both performance and endurance, focusing on the reliability and power use needed by today’s embedded designs.

Based on the response from the Embedded World audience, we realized that more depth on this topic would be helpful. Returning from Germany, we edited and updated the paper with the very latest performance data. F2FS is beginning to mature as a product – though not all the tools are yet functional – which allowed us to include it in all of the measurements this time around.

The results of these edits are the paper linked below. If you want to know more about this topic, please feel free to contact me.

Flash Friendly File Systems white paper

Thom Denholm | May 23, 2014 | Extended Flash Life, Flash File System, Flash Industry Info, Flash Memory, Performance, Reliability | Leave a comment

Support: When You Need it You Need it Big Time!

I’ve always carefully considered which cell phone I use. Having had Datalight software in lots of cell phones has given me an extra affinity for them. I started with a Microsoft Windows-based phone long before any one called them a “Smart Phone”. I know the Apple iPhone is the darling of the market and has been since Steve Jobs announced “an iPod, an Internet device, a Phone…an iPod, and Internet device…”, but not being one to follow the crowd, I’ve never owned an iPhone.

Last fall, my Android-based Motorola Atrix phone just stopped working. I could not bring up my calendar, my email, nothing. It just died. I’d had it for about a year and knew it was time for a new one. I had an AT&T phone insurance plan so I went to AT&T and asked for a new phone. Given that I’d really enjoyed my Atrix and it was an Android phone, I opted to stick with Android.

AT&T provided an Android phone, but it was NOTHING compared to the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix delivered a great in car experience. When it was plugged into the car adapter its functionality changed from Smart Phone mode to a hands free GPS and music player and it read texts to me as they arrived – overall a great when driving-user experience! With the AT&T replacement phone I could at least make a phone call and get email, but nothing more! It sucked.

After taking some time to evaluate my options, I finally decided on the new Google Nexus 5 because Google, the makers of Android, and recent purchaser of Motorola Mobility (the Cell phone division), surely would make a great Android phone. While not having as good a car experience as the Atrix, the Nexus 5 was a nice phone.

I use my phone as my email, calendar, web browser, and communication device, both personal & corporate. Look up a local place to eat, use the GPS to find it and even record notes when a laptop is too clumsy. My life is on my phone!

Recently I was out of the country on holiday, in and out of cell and Wifi coverage, so the phone had data and then did not. Not a real problem for vacation, connected but not too connected. On Friday the phone stopped receiving email. I wasn’t too alarmed, figuring it would come back. Saturday morning I arrived back in the country, and still no email, or web. Wow, this is odd. Turn on airplane mode, turn off airplane mode… re-boot, re-boot, re-boot – still no data getting to my phone. Back home late Monday, I went into an AT&T store to get it fixed. They change the SIM card, monkey with it. Get an AT&T person on the line who plays with the network, trying to give me data back. All to no avail. AT&T says “It’s not the network. The phone is broken.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. NOT what I want to hear!

I get on Google website for Nexus 5 and find a phone number to call. I call and speak with Marc. He’s a friendly guy that recommends I re-boot, put it on airplane mode and take it off. Get a new SIM card, update the APN number (all stuff either I did or AT&T did for me when I was in the store). Marc says that he does not believe that Google will replace the phone if it’s only a data problem. I get real clear with Marc, if the data does not work, this phone is worthless to me! “Yes, I understand” he say, “I’ll check into it and see what I can do here at Google.”

As the call was ending Marc says, “There will be a 2 minute survey at the end of this call. Please take time to respond to this survey if you can. They ask if the representative was helpful.”

Did he take ownership of my problem?    Fully fixed my problem?   Marc was nice enough, but I was still frustrated!

Marc did follow up with an email that said do all the stuff he’d told me about on the phone. At the end of the email it says “If this does not fully resolve your problem let us know”. I fire back an email immediately. And get asked to take yet another survey!

Two companies, AT&T and Google, neither really took care of the issue but they sure did ask me a bunch if I was satisfied.

All this just reminds me: how proud I am of Datalight’s support. Our team does take responsibility for the customer’s problem. They often spend time investigating issues with the customer regardless of the time of day, regardless even of the likelihood of it being a problem with our software. Whether it’s a 6:00 AM call with Germany or an 11:00 PM call with Japan, whether it’s a hardware problem or not they are on it. I only wish they could fix my phone!

Learn more about Datalight support

RoySherrill | April 29, 2014 | Flash Industry Info | Leave a comment

New Datalight Whitepaper:A Study of the Impact of File System Selection on Life Expectancy of Solid State Storage

In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density would double every two years or so. For the most part, this observation has held true for 50 years and has become well known as “Moore’s Law.” This characteristic is a fundamental driving force behind the technological advances which have led to computers continually becoming faster, smaller, cheaper, and more reliable. Almost every aspect of technology has benefited from this characteristic – almost. Solid state memory is one area where there is a major dichotomy. Moore’s Law has resulted in smaller and cheaper storage, yet the driving need for more storage capacity has driven manufacturers to sacrifice reliability and in some cases performance.

The purpose for this paper is to discuss the characteristics of solid state memory, specifically as they relate to media life (endurance) and performance. It will show how alternative file systems and file system configurations can significantly improve both media life and performance in a Linux/Android environment.

Click to access the whitepaper

Thom Denholm | April 10, 2014 | Datalight Products, Flash File System, Flash Industry Info, Flash Memory | Leave a comment

Embedded World 2014

Datalight booth

General impressions
The weather in Nuremberg was absolutely fantastic – it was very hard to go indoors to Embedded World. That said, there was a definite reward for doing so – technology that has gotten smaller, faster, and uses less power. In my estimation, the crowds were about the same as 2013. Visitors to the Datalight booth covered an intercontinental spectrum – from Beijing to Benelux to Boise.

Intel's IOTFreescal's IOT

Internet of Things
Of course, the big topic at this years show was the Internet of Things. Wind River announced that VxWorks 7 would enable it, and we saw IoT branded on every third booth. What does it mean to Datalight? The Internet of Things is about distributed control and decision – device feedback utilized properly. Datalight software can provide solid feedback from the block device and file system level, enabling best decisions about device lifetime and performance options, if not actual control of the higher level. More on this in the near future.

Spansion Instrument ClusterKinetis Simulator

Where the Internet of Things will have its first big impact is likely to be cars, and this show had the usual booths of simulators, dash displays and new ideas. Atemel’s curvy new concept for the center console was quite interesting to see.

Technical Talk and Twitter
Datalight accomplished two new things at this years show – I spoke in the technical conference about Flash Friendly File Systems, and we also tweeted frequently. Our presentation was a solid success, and you can read the original paper below. As for twitter (@DatalightInc), we tweeted about other Logic partners, Intel, WindRiver, and others – the live response came from Atmel. Outside of hobbyists, do embedded engineers participate in Twitter? We aren’t seeing it yet. I am certainly interested in your comments, either here or through twitter…

Thom Denholm | March 11, 2014 | Automotive, Flash File System | 2 Comments