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New storage technologies to deal with the data deluge

As enterprise storage demands escalate, disk densities continue to rise. But the real magic is in software, where speed and size come together.

By Robert L. Scheier
March 25, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Douglas Soltesz, vice president and CIO at Budd Van Lines, is facing a common problem: A seemingly endless flood of data.

"If you gave me an infinite amount of storage, I could fill it," he says. The most recent four months of high-definition surveillance video from the company's offices and warehouses now consumes 60TB on his NexentaStor NAS and SAN platforms. That video is one reason his storage needs are growing 50% to 80% per year.

If he had twice as much capacity, he says, his users would just ask to keep their video twice as long.

With existing hard drive technologies ending their decade-long run of ever-increasing densities, IT shops are waiting for new technologies such as shingled magnetic recording (SMR) and phase-change memory (PCM) to boost storage densities. In the meantime, they are holding down costs -- and boosting data access -- with software that virtualizes, deduplicates and caches data on commodity disk drives, solid-state drives (SSD) and server-side flash memory.

Disk Density Gets Higher Still

After about 10 years of steadily increasing densities, disks that use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) are topping out at about 1TB per square inch, says Mark Re, a senior vice president at storage vendor Seagate Technology.

In the second half of this year, Seagate will begin shipping drives that use SMR to squeeze more data onto disks by overlapping the data tracks on them like shingles on a roof, says Fang Zhang, a storage analyst at IHS iSuppli. That should eventually boost drive densities to 1.3T to 1.4T bits per square inch, says Re, who adds that Seagate's SRM drives will start with desktop form factors and spread to other platforms such as storage arrays next year.

The next advance, which will take disk drives to 5Tbits per square inch, is heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which uses a small laser to change the magnetic properties of the disk, says Re. Seagate's first HAMR drives are expected in 2015 or 2016.

In the fourth quarter of this year, Seagate rival HGST, a Western Digital Company, is expected to release disk drives filled with helium, which provides less resistance than air and thus allows the addition of another storage platter or two to a drive. Those extra platters could lift the maximum capacity of PMR drives from today's 4TB to 5TB or 6TB, says Zhang. HGST says it also plans to release SMR and HAMR drives within about two years, and by the end of the decade it hopes to double hard drive density through the use of self-assembling molecules and nanoimprinting.

On the flash memory front, vendors are working to increase not only the density, but also the useful capacity and life span of flash memory used in server-based flash storage and SSDs.



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