Hardware preview: ioSafe SSD – fireproof, waterproof, crushproof and shockproof

Back in September 2009, I wrote about the ioSafe Solo, a fireproof and waterproof drive. In January 2010, at CES in Las Vegas, ioSafe, the company behind these disaster-proof drives, launched a new product, the ioSafe Solo SSD.

It’s the same size as the ioSafe Solo, it looks the same outside, except for the branding, which now adds “SSD”, but inside, it’s a whole new ballgame. Instead of using a regular 3.5″ SATA drive, they’re using a 2.5″ Solid State Drive. This means they have even more spare space to play with when it comes to disaster-proofing the device — which they certainly did!

The ioSafe SSD isn’t only fireproof (same serious specs as ioSafe Solo), and waterproof (better specs than ioSafe Solo, now with full immersion up to 30 ft for 30 days with no data loss), but it’s also crushproof (5000 lbs, any axis with no data loss) and shockproof (20 ft drop into rubble, 1000g shock for 1ms with no data loss).

Here’s a video from CES where Rob Moore, the company’s CEO, burns the drive, then floods it with a firehose, then has it dropped from about 20 feet, then has it run over with a bulldozer. In the end, even though the enclosure gets destroyed, the data stored onto it remains perfectly safe.

Quoting from the press release:

“Combining ioSafe’s new proprietary ArmorPlate, a military grade steel outer casing with SSD technology, the new ioSafe Solo SSD adds unprecedented shock, drop and crush protection to the existing fire and water protection.

The ioSafe Solo SSD combined with ArmorPlate helps to protect data in a two story building collapse, 5000 lb. crush forces, 20’ drop into rubble and up to a 1000g shock. In addition the original HydroSafe™, FloSafe™ and DataCast™ work to keep the drive cool during normal operation and protect the data from fires up to 1550°F for 1/2 hour and complete water submersion of 30’ for 30 days in fresh or salt water. Like all ioSafe products, the ioSafe Solo SSD comes with ioSafe’s Data Recovery Service, a “no questions asked” policy to help customers recover from any data disaster including accidental deletion, virus or physical disaster.”

The specs say the ArmorPlate military-grade steel is 1/4″ thick. That’s mighty thick. It also makes the ioSafe SSD about 5 lbs heavier than the ioSafe Solo. It now weighs in at 20 lbs.

I wonder if the whole device could withstand bullets, because then it would make a perfect military storage device for use in conflict zones. For example, it could be placed in tanks, humvees and helicopters to store video, audio and coordinate information during patrols. And at 256GB for the largest size drive, it could store plenty of HD video, if the military should want to go in that direction.

But let’s not go into hypothetical situations. The ioSafe SSD can work for disaster recovery right now. Should your place of business burn down or fall down or be flooded, any data stored on the ioSafe SSD will be available to you immediately, as soon as you dig it out of the rubble. That’s a tangible advantage. You can simply add this drive to your server room, or put it in the CEO’s or CFO’s office, and let him or her back up important documents to it, knowing they’ll be there in case of a disaster.

The thought just occurred to me — do you know how they could make it better? If it’s meant to survive disasters and be buried in rubble, it needs a geo chip of some sort, so you can locate it with a proximity device. It could be something simple that beeps faster the closer you are to the drive, so you don’t have to dig through all the rubble to find it, should it come to that.

And there’s another goodie packed into the drive: an eSATA interface. This, coupled with an SSD, means you’ll get blazing fast write and read speeds. You can see the eSATA connector on the back, next to the USB and power connectors.

Pricing for the three different Solo SSD models starts at $499 for 64GB, $749 for 128GB, and $1250 for 256GB. It’s a bit steep, but then, SSDs are still expensive, and no other drive on the market (that I know of) offers this level of physical protection for your data.

Images used courtesy of ioSafe. You can see photos, videos, specs and more information about the Solo SSD on their website.

Switch drive packs between two Drobos while keeping your data safe

Sometimes you’ll need to switch your drive packs (the set of drives that sits in a Drobo) between two Drobos. Or say you’re using two drive packs on the same Drobo. How do you switch the two packs safely, to ensure you lose none of your precious data?

That’s the question I asked myself a couple of days ago, when I found that I needed to interchange the drive packs between my 2nd Generation (FW800) Drobo and my 1st Generation (USB 2.0 Drobo). I’d expected this move for a while, as I hinted to it in a recent post entitled “What’s on your Drobo“. It has to do with my photography workflow, and if you’d like to read through the rationale, you’re welcome to check out that post.

So, what’s involved?

  1. Safely shut down the Drobo(s)
  2. Disconnect power and FW/USB cables
  3. Take out disk pack as a whole from one Drobo
  4. Insert disk pack as a whole into another Drobo (or same Drobo, as the case may be)
  5. Connect FW/USB cables
  6. Connect power cables
  7. Boot up the Drobo(s)

I’ve put together a video demonstration of the process, which you can watch below or on YouTube. This was unrehearsed, and it’s not something I did before, so there was a fair bit of related anxiety. I rely very heavily on my Drobo units for data archival, and I don’t ever want to lose any of my data. Thankfully, everything went smoothly, and things are working great!

The detailed steps involved in the process are listed in two tech notes on the Data Robotics website:

  1. How do I safely shut down my Drobo?
  2. Can I move my disk pack from one Drobo storage device to another?

I need to add here that drive packs aren’t interchangeable between all Drobo models. You’ll need to read carefully through that second tech note listed above to make sure you don’t unintentionally corrupt your Drobo volume by putting the pack in an incompatible Drobo device.

If you’re wondering why one ought to bother to switch data packs, the decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. In my situation, the alternative would have been a manual copy of the data, which would have taken days, since I work with terabytes. Switching the drive packs took 15-20 minutes altogether (reading through the tech notes, emailing Drobo Support to ask them a question, and actually doing it). The trade-off, if I hadn’t done things correctly, would have been costly and possibly irreversible data loss. Fortunately, things went according to plan!

Storage drops below 7 cents per gigabyte

In January of 2009, I mentioned the price of storage had just dropped below 9 cents per gigabyte. I see now that 2 TB drives are selling below $150 (they’re $140), so it’s time to update my figures. At $139.99 for a 2 TB (2,000 GB) SATA hard drive, that comes out to less than 7 cents per GB. That’s a great deal, and it goes without saying that it’s the lowest price for data storage consumers have ever seen.

Updated 4/19/10: Micro Center is selling 2 TB Seagate SATA drives for $119.99. It’s an in-store special, with a one drive per household limit, but still, that makes it 6 cents per gigabyte. What can I say — expect the price to keep dropping…

On the downside, it seems hard drive manufacturers have hit a ceiling with 2 TB drives. I haven’t heard talk of 3 or 4 TB drives, or anything larger than that. Perhaps I haven’t been keeping up with storage news properly, so if you’ve heard some good news, do let me know!

A 27 GB hard drive for $276?

While cleaning up old paperwork, I ran into a receipt from late 1999, for a WD 27.3 GB hard drive with an Ultra 66 Cable. The price for that thing was $275.94 with taxes. Nowadays, I can get a 2 TB hard drive (that’s 2,000 GB) for less than $150. How times have changed!

Hardware review: ioSafe Solo, the fireproof and waterproof drive

The folks from ioSafe gave me a 500 GB ioSafe Solo drive and asked if I could write about it. The short summary is this: it’s quite different from a regular external drive, and yes, it does exactly what it says it’s supposed to do — it is fireproof and waterproof.

iosafe-fireproof

How is it different? For one thing, it’s big — much bigger than a regular external drive, much bigger than even a Drobo. Keep in mind this is a single-drive enclosure, while the Drobo is a four-drive enclosure. It’s also much heavier than a regular external hard drive. The discrepancy is explained solely by its unique purpose, which is to withstand fires and floods. I’ll explain below.

iosafe-solo-and-drobo-1

The ioSafe drive is made with technologies like the FloSafe air cooled vent, HydroSafe water barrier and DataCast fire safe — patented technologies which the folks at ioSafe invented.

One of my concerns with the drive, given its watertight and fireproof seals, was how it cools itself. Could it withstand regular use? Wouldn’t the drive overheat during extended use? The answer is no, thanks to the FloSafe vents, which stay open and allow air to circulate through the enclosure as long as the room temperature stays under 200° F. Once the ambient heat passes over that threshold, the vents close and seal automatically, protecting the drive inside. The closing mechanism doesn’t rely on electricity — it’s mechanically triggered, which means it’ll work whether or not the drive is plugged in.

The drive and circuits are packed inside a foam enclosure called the DataCast fire insulation. The DataCast formulation forms a chemical bond with water molecules that, at temperatures above 160° F, releases water vapor to limit the internal temperature of the hard drive. This enables the ioSafe data storage product to protect your data from heat damage while the unit is engulfed in fire. Typical fires last about 30 minutes and have temperatures of approximately 800° F to 1000° F. The ioSafe fire resistant data storage product has been tested up to UL 72 one-hour standards at 1700° F and the ASTM E119 fire curve standard. While the strength and duration of a fire cannot be predicted, the ioSafe drive has been over-engineered to withstand even the toughest fires, and that’s good news for your data.

When it comes to flood protection, the HydroSafe barrier blocks fresh or saltwater damage, including full immersion, while still allowing for the heat dissipation necessary for normal functioning. All ioSafe products are inherently flood resistant, whether or not the vents are open or closed, which is as it should be, since a flood isn’t normally associated with a temperature rise above 200° F.

The official specs of the ioSafe Solo drive which I reviewed say that it’s fireproof to 1550° F up to ½ hour and waterproof to 10 feet of fresh or saltwater up to 3 full days. They also say the drive comes with a 3-year warranty and a $1,000 Data Recovery Service, which works as follows (quoting from ioSafe website):

  1. The Company or its contracted partner will provide phone or email based support to assist in recovering the data, or
  2. The Company will pay for the disaster exposed product to be shipped back to the Company’s headquarters for data recovery. If data recovery is successful, a replacement product will be loaded with the original data and shipped back to the original user, or
  3. At the discretion of the Company, if the data recovery by the Company is not successful, the Company will pay up to the amount shown in the table below for the specific product to a third-party disk recovery service of the Company’s choice to extract the data. Any data extracted will be loaded on a replacement product and shipped back to the original user. The Company has the right to use a factory refurbished product as the replacement product.
Product Line U.S. Dollars per Disk
S2, R4 $5,000
3.5 Pilot, 3.5 Squadron $2,500
Solo External HDD $1,000

I know of no other company that offers a free data recovery service, particularly after a damaging incident such as a fire or a flood. ioSafe does it, proving their commitment to the safety of your data.

Now let’s talk about the other aspects of the drive, such as its looks, performance and noise levels.

The enclosure of the ioSafe Solo is made of solid sheet metal, particularly the front, top and bottom, which is made of a single piece of 1 mm thick steel. It’s built like a tank — as hard drives go, anyway — and is made to withstand hits and dents. The simplicity of the design — two leaves of sheet metal bent into simple curves that fit together like a dovetail joint — makes it appealing to someone who likes good, solid design.

ioSafe-Solo-front

Other than its size, the enclosure’s exterior isn’t fancy or flashy. The real beauty lies inside, in the fireproof and waterproof padding and seals. Other than a bit of branding and the blue LEDs on the front, the sides, top and bottom feature no adornments at all.

ioSafe-Solo-side

The back side features a lip with a punch hole that can be used to secure the drive physically to a flat surface, or with a security cable. The back of the drive has a power switch, the USB connector, the air grille through which the drive cools itself, the DC power port, and a metal plate with the drive’s serial number etched onto it.

ioSafe-Solo-rear

Hardware noise is something I’m always concerned with. I prefer my hardware to be as quiet as possible. I compared the ioSafe drive with other external devices that I own, like the 1st generation Drobo, the 2nd generation Drobo, the WD My Book Studio Edition II, and the LaCie Mini. On an approximate loudness scale, it ranks below a 1st gen Drobo but above all the other devices, like the 2nd gen Drobo, the My Book Studio and the LaCie Mini. It’s the fan that’s the cause of the noise, not the hard drive itself. Given how much padding and sealing there is inside the enclosure, the fan has to work extra in order to cool it, so you’ll always hear its hum. The good thing is that it’s constant, so you tend to get used to it after a while.

The drive has a USB 2.0 interface, so you can expect typical USB 2.0 transfer speeds from it (it tops out at 480 Mbps). For example, I was able to copy 122.25 GB to the ioSafe Solo in 1 hour and 50 minutes, which is par, or perhaps even a little faster, than my prior experiences with USB 2.0 transfers.

Beside the size of the drive, which is considerable but appropriate given its specifications and purpose (5.0″W x 7.1″H x 11.0″L), there’s also its weight to consider (15 lbs). This is a heavy drive. It’s not something you can lug around in a backpack. It’s something that’s meant to be stationary and to withstand fires and floods. It is serious business. I wouldn’t even call the ioSafe Solo a drive you can keep on your desktop. Yes, you can do that, but it’s probably better to keep it bolted to the floor or to your wall, or even better, plug it into a USB to Ethernet device and keep it away from your desk, somewhere in the basement, in the attic, or in a closet. Turn it on every once in a while, copy your vital data to it, then turn it off and forget about it, until you have a disaster. Then dig it out, retrieve your data, and pat yourself on the back for having bought it.

The ioSafe Solo isn’t the only device made by ioSafe. They have a whole range of drives that cater to consumers and businesses alike. They have internal drives, made to fit inside existing computers, that use the same fire and water-resistant technology. They’re 2.5″ drives fitted inside custom 3.5″ enclosures with SATA interfaces. They also have rack-mountable RAID systems configured as RAID 1 (mirrors) and NAS devices that can be configured as RAID 0/1/5.

I initially planned to put the review unit through fire and water in order to test it, but I honestly don’t know what new things I could add to what people have already done to it in order to prove its capabilities. Take this video from the Wall Street Journal for example, where ioSafe’s CEO dunked the drive in a pool, then baked it in an oven to show the data stays safe.

Another reviewer barbecued the ioSafe Solo, only to find out the data stayed safe, as expected. On a local TV station in California, where ioSafe is headquartered, Robb Moore, ioSafe’s CEO, went on camera to torch yet another product — their 3.5″ internal drive that uses the same technology. The result, once more, was the expected one. The data stayed safe even though the drive was put through 30 minutes of 1200° F fire.

Finally, Gear Diary ran the ultimate fire test on the ioSafe Solo. They put it inside a burning car, left it in there for 10-15 minutes, hosed it down with professional fire equipment, then disassembled it to see if the data stayed safe. It did.

Like I said, I don’t know what I could add by torching and dunking my review unit, when it’s already been done much better by others. Gear Diary’s test in a burning car was the ultimate proof for me. That was a real test under real life conditions, and the drive proved that it could withstand it.

If you’d like to buy the Solo, you can do so directly from ioSafe or from Amazon.

After the 49 Fire that destroyed 63 homes in Auburn, CA on 8/30, ioSafe CEO Robb Moore offered free ioSafe Solo drives to the fire victims.

If you’d like to win your very own ioSafe Solo drive, then join ioSafe’s Facebook page. As soon as they have 5,000 fans, they’ll hold a drawing and award one of them the drive.

Images used courtesy of ioSafe.

Predictions about computer drives in the future

72GB SanDisk SSD SATA 1.8"

On 1/16/09, Computer World published an article where the author paints a future full of SSDs. He puts forth the idea that drives will not only be replaced by memory chips, but that these memory chips will be integrated into the motherboard, doing away with the SATA interface. There are a number of things I don’t agree with in that article, and I’m not the only one who’s annoyed. Others have called out the author for his statements as well.

For one thing, let’s remember that computer memory once relied on chips integrated into the central circuits. Going back to that sort of approach would be like going back in time. Weren’t we supposed to progress, not regress? The advantages have to be truly worthwhile, and I’m not convinced.

A claim made in the article is that of increased speed: “By making the drive part of a system’s core architecture — instead of a peripheral device — data I/O performance could initially double, quadruple or more.” I love these nebulous claims, don’t you? It could double, quadruple or more. Hey, why not 8x faster? Maybe 16x faster? Let’s just inflate the numbers, it looks great on paper…

From my experience, I noticed that transfer speeds to flash memory vary tremendously — based on how much used space there is on the memory itself, or the file size. Larger files transfer much faster than smaller ones. Sure, in my experience, there was a SATA or USB interface in the way, but that doesn’t change what happens with the flash memory itself.

We should also keep in mind that flash memory is limited in the number of write operations it can take before it expires. On the other hand, regular hard drives have a much longer life span. I for one don’t want to be in a situation where I have to replace an expensive SSD on my laptop because I’ve saved one too many files and it has just gone belly up.

That brings to mind another issue: will these SSDs be soldered onto the motherboard, or can I pull them out and replace them as needed, like I do with RAM modules? I think you can readily imagine how inconvenient it would be to have to service your computer if its SSD is soldered onto the motherboard.

How about space on the SSD? What do I do if I want to increase the space on my drive? Do I have to buy another full SSD? I’d much prefer we had SSD bays, like RAM bays, where I could stick additional SSD modules to automatically increase the space, just like it works with RAM. A partitioning tool integrated within the OS should then allow me to resize my existing partitions and spread them over the newly available space, or to create another partition out of that space.

I keep hearing people say that 250GB or 160GB is plenty of space for your laptop. That’s nonsense. I’m always maxing out my laptop’s hard drive when I go on trips, because I fill it with photographs and videos which I then unload to my external storage when I get home.

I find that for my needs, a 500GB or 1TB laptop hard drive is what I need right now. At some point in the future, I may need more. I haven’t started working with HD video for example. I know that’s a tremendous space hog. I think a 1TB drive would be the minimum I would need if I started to work in that arena.

With SSDs, price is still an issue, and so is space, at least for now. I just don’t find it practical to spend money on SSDs at the moment, and I don’t think my opinion will change unless their prices and storage specs start to match those of regular hard drives.While we’re on the subject of price, where in the world did Gartner get their figure of 38 cents per gigabyte? That’s the figure quoted in the article. I’m sorry, Gartner, but you folks need to check your math. I came up with 9 cents per gigabyte recently.

On the other hand, I do understand that the additional interface between the motherboard and the hard drive is a bottleneck. If we can do something to speed that up, I’m all for it. But you’ve got to prove to me (and to other consumers out there) that your technology is affordable and reliable and offers tangible benefits other than tech media hype.

I’m also excited about the possibility of increasing drive space on a modular basis, where I simply put in more SSD modules in expansion bays on the motherboard, like I do with RAM. But there’s no indication that we’re heading in that direction from the article itself. Until we get to that point, I’ll still continue to think that SSDs are aimed at the wrong market segment. Not everyone is a MacBook Air-toting management type. The bulk of computer users out there need affordable technology with plenty of storage, well made, and reliable over 3-4 years or more. SSDs just aren’t there yet.

Image used courtesy of SanDisk Corporation.

Hardware review: LaCie Little Disk 500GB

I needed a larger external drive to do my Time Machine backups, and the LaCie Little Disk 500GB was the best value for my money. It’s a portable drive (2.5″ form factor), it has 500GB of space, and it only cost me $100 at B&H. They’re pricing it at $124.95 now, so I guess I bought it at the right time (right before Christmas). (Amazon still has it for $100 if you want it.)

The design of the drive is distinctive, and builds upon the brick design that LaCie used to their advantage in the past. The enclosure is made of glossy black plastic, and it comes with a removable top/lid, which masks a short, retractable USB cable. I’m not crazy about that top, since it doesn’t sit tightly on the enclosure, but at least it can be removed easily.

In terms of weight, the drive is as light as other portable drives — perhaps even lighter. In terms of size, it is a little longer and thicker than my 160GB WD Passport drive, whose design, although almost three years old by now, is still one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I like my little LaCie drive though. It’s fast and roomy enough for me to back up my MBP’s 250GB hard drive as often as I need. Time Machine backups complete in minutes, and then I can simply eject the drive and put it away until I want to do another backup. I am even using the carrying pouch for now, to protect the drive as it sits in my backpack during travel.

Photos used courtesy of LaCie.