The Greening of the Hard Drive

Arthur Cole

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are clearly the greener solution when it comes to storing enterprise data. But that doesn't change the fact that SSDs are not necessarily the better choice for all your storage needs.

Mission-critical data, near-term backup and a host of other applications are better suited to hard disks by virtue of their greater reliability and growing storage capacities. And while all those mechanical parts tend to draw more power than DRAM or Flash technology, some of the newer drive systems are claiming some pretty impressive green credentials nonetheless.

Seagate, for one, just introduced a new Barracuda drive that spins at the unusual rate of 5,900 rpm. By charting a middle course between the low-performance 5,400 rpm drives and higher-energy 7,200 rpm drives, Seagate hopes to draw interest in lower-level applications such as low-power PCs, external storage devices and small office and home data storage appliances. The 3.5-inch SATA device shaves a quarter off the energy use of a typical drive and can be configured up to 2 TB for less than $400.

Western Digital also has a new lower-power drive, the RE4-GP. It's also a SATA drive that can hold up to 2 TB and is loaded with WD's IntelliSeek, IntelliPark and IntelliPower energy-saving techniques to bring consumption down to 6.8 watts active and 3.7 watts idle. Recovery time from idle disks is less than one second, by the way, and the device is rated at 1.2 million MTBF in high duty-cycle environments. The RE4 comes on the heels of the WD Caviar Green, the first low-power drive to hit the 2 TB mark.

Selecting the right disk drive is only a small part in achieving overall storage efficiency. Forrester Research has issued a new set of green storage guidelines just in time for Earth Day. Recommendations range from the simple (delete more data) to the complex (opt for higher density rather than faster performance, where possible), with a wide range of techniques in between (thin provisioning, deduplication, snapshotting).

Forrester points out that the most effective way to reduce storage costs, is to avoid buying more of it unnecessarily. For a standard 100 TB storage farm, total power costs would run about $13,600 at current energy prices, while the cost of buying that much hardware to begin with would run about $1.4 million.

The more efficient your storage is, the more money you will save both now and in the future.

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