Suffering From a Lack of Drive?

3 Mar 2023

When yesteryear’s data storage devices are no longer available, high reliability solid-state based emulators can be used as swap-in drive replacements to extend the life of legacy systems…and restore confidence.

Obsolescence is a major problem in all sectors where systems are expected to provide dependable and reliable service for several years. Indeed, the long-term support of a system is typically a contractual obligation.

Also, many systems have their service lives extended. This frequently happens in the defence sector when, for example, replacement (next gen’) platforms are delayed. And in the telecoms sector, operators must provide services that use legacy switch gear. Oh, and let’s not forget the effect the Covid pandemic had on the global economy; many companies shelved their plans for upgrading to new systems, deciding instead to squeeze more life out of their current ones.

Not surprisingly, obsolescence management is being practiced in many sectors, as reflected in the International Institute of Obsolescence Management’s (IIOM) commitment to improving the knowledge and best practice of obsolescence practitioners through education, networking, and process development.

Clearly, the longer a system needs to remain in service, the more of a problem obsolescence becomes. Worse still, the obsolescence clock starts ticking at the design stage – and not service-entry. An oft cited example is that by the time the US Navy’s surface ships sonar system was deployed in 2002, 70% of the components that had been designed in in 1996 were reportedly obsolete.


A particular challenge is when an entire subsystem becomes obsolete, and in this respect data storage devices – or rather their underlying technologies – have changed considerably over the years.

Magnetic storage has been a popular technology for several decades and remains so, as hard disk drives (HDDs) are still a practical means of storing very high volumes of data relatively cheaply. However, early HDDs – used as the primary storage device in many legacy systems – are no longer available. Their OEMs ceased making them years ago, and some of the OEMs are no longer around. Similarly, secondary storage devices – those used for backups and/or system recovery – are also obsolete. Here we’re talking magnetic tape and floppy drives, and optical drives.

Because these old storage technologies rely on the health of moving parts such as bearings, shafts and wheels – as well as motors – they are becoming increasingly unreliable due to wear and tear. Yet many systems are still reliant on ageing SCSI-based 2.5” drives, for example.

Incredibly, magnetic tape and disk drives can still be found in the cleanrooms of some semiconductor fabrication companies.

The lack of brand-new replacements has resulted in many companies offering reconditioned units, but the warrantees provided are often very short. And do they provide peace of mind? I’d argue not, as it will be very difficult to look at any system that is heavily relied upon and not think: “OK, not only is the drive decades old – it’s also second-hand.”


Thankfully, virtually any old-technology drive can be replaced with a functionally equivalent one (an emulator) that uses solid-state memory. It is far more reliable than any of the above old-tech drives because it has no moving parts. It can also withstand shocks and vibration and it uses less power.

It can also be accessed faster – certainly faster than most host systems will require – and it can be mapped as per the original. In other words, a suitably programmed emulator can act as a form-fit-function replacement, including having the correct connections for data and power. This means no updates to the host system are required.

Also, most emulators are available with Ethernet ports – and that opens up a hold new world of possibilities, which we discuss in our next blog post ‘Remote Access’.




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