New Life in Hard-Disk Drives

Arthur Cole

By this time, it is clear that hard-disk technology will remain a going concern in the enterprise for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, it's easy to overlook some of the tremendous gains the technology has made in the past few years as all eyes focus on new solid-state designs.

But a closer look at HDDs reveals that advancements in capacity, throughput and overall flexibility are pushing the technology to new levels, and putting traditional media in the center of critical data environments.

One need look no further than Western Digital's latest release, the Caviar Green drive to see where the technology is headed. The drive delivers a whopping 3 TB over overall capacity, the largest internal SATA device to date. The company employs an Advanced Format system capable of squeezing more than 4,000 bytes per sector, plus a denser surface design that supports up to 750 GB per platter. The drives are intended for high-performance environments, preferably 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7 supporting the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface.

The new drive comes amid word, from WD at least, that SSDs in the enterprise are not proving to be as big a draw as press reports suggest. The company is telling financial analysts that SSD deployments have been mediocre at best while HDD shipments are still showing steady improvement.

Some new HDD designs are even starting to encroach on SSDs turf: mainly speed and throughput. Hitachi recently came out with a 10k drive, the Ultrastar C10K600, tied to a 6 Gbps SAS interface said to boost both random and sequential performance 15 to 18 percent and cut power consumption to boot. Capacities on the 2.5-inch device range from 300 to 600 GB, with optional bulk data encryption functionality built in, plus features like Fluid Dynamic Bearing and Rotational Vibration Safeguards to enhance durability.

Support technologies for hard-disk drives are also gaining new ground. LSI Corp. recently unveiled a new system-on-chip (SoC) featuring an integrated hard-disk controller that should speed up drive development and lower costs. The TrueStore SC9500 is aimed at application-specific standard product (ASSP) development for laptop and desktop configurations. The 40 nm system also provides a low-density parity check (LDPC) read channel and serial PHY integrated circuits. Improved signal-to-noise characteristics are expected to increase storage capacity some 10 percent.

All signs indicate that enterprise-class SSDs will continue to move into high-speed transactional and database environments, but the transition is not likely to be total. Hard-disk drives will certainly play a role in Tier 1 applications for the foreseeable future, even as they prove to be the workhorses for lower level and bulk storage/backup solutions.

As enterprise environments and data loads become more complex, enterprise storage will likely contain a mixed bag of solutions. As in nearly all other areas of the data center, one size does not fit all anymore.

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