The Greening of the Disk Drive

Arthur Cole

Efforts at greening up the data center tend to focus largely on the server farm. And it's true that the vast majority of savings will come from virtualization, consolidation and other measures to reduce the energy draw and heat dissipation from your racks.


But green technology is starting to take hold elsewhere, particularly in storage where a new generation of hard disk drives promises to add more green to Mother Nature, and your bottom line.


This article from Andrew Binstock in Greener Computing offers a good rundown on the types of drives currently on the market and the best ways they can be deployed based on factors like size, density, spin rates and I/O performance. A good place to start is by examining second-tier, capacity-oriented storage, where older optical media can be replaced with newer 1-TB drives.


Western Digital is seen by many as being at the forefront of the green disk drive curve, ushering in its second generation of devices with the RE2-GP (GreenPower) line. These serial ATA drives are available in 500-GB, 750-GB and 1-TB configurations and are said to draw four to five watts less than similar drives, although the company hasn't released an actual consumption figure, as far as I can tell. But it is equipped with intelligent management tools to govern things like workload balancing, spin speed, transfer rates and the position of recording heads to cut usage during idle periods.


Samsung is also on the green track with the F1 Series drive offering 334 GB per platter and a 3 Gbps SATA interface with native command queuing for RAID applications. The company says enhanced electronics provide a power draw of 6.7 watts while idle and 7.2 watts in random seek mode.


To some, however, the focus on storage hardware to cut energy costs is an exercise in futility. Earlier this month, Jon Toigo of Toigo Partners International, told a group at the Storage Decisions conference in San Francisco that improved data management will deliver much better results than shaving a few watts here and there in the storage arrays. He cited research that suggested only about 30 percent of a drive's data is of any importance. The remainder is either historical data that should be shunted to a long-term platform, like tape, or either unauthorized or orphaned data that serves no purpose at all. Cutting a drive's data load by 70 percent is where the real savings lie, Toigo said.


Toigo does have a point in that shiny new systems won't do much good if your data's a mess. But we're of a mind that all approaches to reducing power consumption are valid in this day and age. Software-driven storage resource management will likely provide a greater return on investment than new hardware, but if refresh cycles are coming due and it's time to upgrade old drives anyway, it makes more sense to invest in technology that has lower TCO, particularly if energy costs continue to rise.

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