Flash Memory For Fun And Profit

Backup and synchronization are obvious value-adds when working with flash modules.

Data-recovery services are a prime opportunity for three reasons: device reliability, compatibility and rough handling. While flash memory is fairly reliable, it does have a limited number of writes. Better flash products work around this limitation by spreading writes among data cells as evenly as possible, which works well when data is not changed often. However, in applications such as digital photography where data is frequently written and revised or replaced, cells do start to fail.

Compatibility between host devices such as PDAs, cell phones, memory readers and digital cameras can also cause apparent data loss. The files may still be on the device and intact but unreadable due to a corrupted file-allocation table. The main cause of this type of corruption is the lack of robust operating systems among portable host devices. The OSes have to be written as lean as possible to minimize their memory footprints, which leads to creative programming and less error-checking in file-handling routines. When two or more hosts try to manage files on a single piece of media, the results therefore can be unpredictable.

One common error produced by hosts with anorexic operating systems is data wrap-around: The host does not realize it has run out of space in the flash memory so it continues writing a file over other data. Sometimes it overwrites the FAT, making files inaccessible, although their data is intact. Using data-recovery tools, a solution provider can retrieve the files for a client.

Considering their reliability, rough handling and how easy it is to lose a flash module, backup and synchronization are obvious value-adds. A simple applet, the Windows briefcase or the new synchronization agent in Windows XP Service Pack 2 can provide a base level of data protection, but not one that a client is likely to think of or set up on his or her own.

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Securing the data on flash products is another opportunity—and certainly one demanded by HIPPA regulations for the medical vertical. Some flash products feature digital-rights management support and even built-in encryption engines. These features need value-added support and software to make them viable technologies, but they go a long way toward intellectual property protection and legislative compliance.