While it's most common in an enterprise context, it's not unheard of for consumers to store data in prolonged periods of time on a backup hard drive. A new research paper by Alvin Cox, a senior researcher at top hard drive manufacturer Seagate Technologies plc (STX), warns that those storing solid state drives (SSDs) should be careful to avoid storing them in hot locations (or at least be aware of the risk of doing so).
The paper states that typically high-quality/enterprise-grade SSDs can retain data for around 2 years without being powered on. However, that average performance profile is based on the assumption that the drive is being stored at a comfortable temperature of 25°C/77°F (so in a climate controlled/air conditioned facility).
Cox found that for ever 5°C/9°F the temperature rises, the storage time halves. In other words, if stored at 30°C/86°F your data is only expect to last for a year of unpowered storage. And at 35°C/95°F the data will only last six months.
That may not seem like much of a concern given how high that temperature is, but when you consider that your garage or an outdoor storage unit could hit well in excess of 35°C/95°F during the summer months in parts of the U.S., you realize that just one ill-advised seasonal bake might be enough to kill the data you thought you had backed up.
The revelation also applies to storage of solid-state equipped devices. if you store a solid state storage-equipped computer (e.g. your Apple Macbook or Microsoft Surface hybrid) or personal media player (PMP) (e.g. an iPod) with in a hot environment, you may find your data gone and OS wiped when you power it on during the winter months.
If there's few enough bad sectors you may be able to scan and repair the drive. But if too much data is lost or if the OS sector is too badly corrupted, your only option may be to format the device and start over.
Cox's paper was published by microelectronics standards organization Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC), a key player in the SSD standards space.
Five years ago SSDs were a niche market, but today SSDs are nearing ubiquity, which makes this a problem with a far bigger scope -- albeit a problem we likely could have seen coming, based on manufacturer retention estimates. So what's the solution? The simples answer is not to avoid long term SSD storage. But if you have to, your best bet is probably to get old fashioned.
If you do have to store your SSD or SSD-equipped laptop at a hotter storage location, Kore Logic Security's Don Allison suggests making a backup image on a mechanical drive.
The easiest way to manage the problem is to image the drive in a timely manner. If long term storage is required, image the SSD onto a mechanical drive and place that drive in storage as well as the SSD. If you maintain an online legal hold storage capability, image the SSD to that storage. Either way, you essentially eliminate potential data retention problems. The worst-case scenario is explaining to the court why your data cannot be accessed because the hard drive you placed into storage is throwing out errors.
Allison says that while most mass-market consumer drives guarantee only a 3-month shelf life (unpowered), they're "being conservative" as retention in climate-controlled sites is actually substantially longer than that. That said, it's also clear from all of this that SSD still remain a far more risky and problematic stand alone storage solution than good old mechanical hard drives -- or even high density magnetic tape storage, which remains a staple at many enterprise IT departments.