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Helium-filled WD drives promise huge boost in capacity

September 13, 2012 08:02 AM ET

The speedy spinning motion causes air turbulence, which in turn disrupts both the platter and the read/write head's ability to remain on track. The phenomenon is known as track misregistration (TMR), a problem that has been exacerbated as tracks are pushed closer together.

A decade ago, for instance, technology allowed for a maximum of 100,000 tracks per inch on a disk drive's platter. Today's technology lets manufacturers offer up to 500,000 tracks per inch, according to Rydning.

"That's where you're reaching the point where it's getting hard to keep the head over the track," Rydning said.

By using the light gas helium, HGST all but eliminated internal turbulence on the 7200rpm drives, thereby over coming the TMR roadblock.

By reducing TMR, manufacturers should be able to use thinner platters, Rydning said.

HGST said the new seven-platter helium drives will weigh 29% less per terabyte of capacity that today's five-platter drives. In other words, a seven-platter helium disk will weigh 690 grams, the same as today's five-platter drives.

Reducing drag on the platters will also allow HGST's new helium drives to use 23% less spindle power to turn. A five-platter drive today draws 6.9 watts while idle. The new seven-platter helium drives will draw 5.3 watts of power in the same state.

The seven-platter, 3.5-in helium drives will also have a 50% lower cost per gigabyte than 2.5-in four-platter hard drives, Collins said.

In addition to lower unit cost, the higher capacity drives mean it will take fewer servers to fill the same data center space. For example, a petabyte of data today requires 20 servers using five-platter, 4TB drives. Using the seven-platter drives, the same data can be stored in only 14 servers, Collins said.

Collins said there are "tectonic shifts" happening as corporate data centers move from the Windows/Intel architecture to standardized hardware and software.

"Data centers are becoming more customized and using more open-source hardware and software," Collins said. "We're seeing a lot of cloud customers designing their own servers, file systems and software stacks."

For data protection, for example, IT shops are moving away from more expensive RAID arrays to using distributed storage infrastructures that uses data replication and erasure coding technologies for data durability.

An enormous portion -- up to 40% -- of the costs in new cloud based data centers will be attributed to operational costs such as power use and floor space, Collins said. Today the bulk of data center costs are capital expenditures, including hardware purchases.

"This is driving a lot of opportunities to differentiate products in the cloud," Collins said. "The attributes of the sealed drive platform make it the ideal foundation for bulk and cold storage applications in enterprise and cloud datacenters."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter@lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is

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