Hard Drives Are Still an Option in the Data Center

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    It is pretty evident at this point that modern data architectures are going to rely heavily on solid state storage for the bulk of their operations. But hard drives will still draw many specialty applications in which raw capacity and low price points are highly valued.

    With so many options on the table, however, it can sometimes be difficult to determine exactly what kind of storage the enterprise should deploy, and in what quantities. For this reason, many organizations will seek to cover all the bases when it comes to storage by making sure that the appropriate resources are available somewhere in either the local data center or on the cloud.

    Increasingly, the enterprise will be able to turn to high-end consumer and prosumer solutions, which are becoming more powerful by the day. Seagate, for instance, recently released a series of devices under the Guardian portfolio that push capacity to 10 TB, equal to its enterprise-class helium-filled drives that hit the channel just a few months ago. The line consists of the 7200 rpm BarraCuda Pro, aimed at high-end desktop applications, along with the IronWolf NAS solution and the SkyHawk drive for surveillance applications. The IronWolf device is the most promising for the data center, being targeted at always-on environments and featuring the company’s AgileArray technology for enhanced drive balance and reduced vibration in high-capacity deployments.

    Still, this may be a risky move for Seagate considering the slacking demand for HDDs in both the enterprise and consumer markets. According to AnandTech, shipments dropped nearly 17 percent in 2015, which represents nearly 100 million units worldwide. The decline coincides not only with the rise of solid state technology in the data center but the drop-off in the desktop and laptop markets as consumers gravitate toward cloud-facing mobile devices. Tech markets have ebbed and flowed for years, of course, but these trends seem to indicate a more systemic shift in hardware-buying patterns as new software-defined, service-level architectures take center stage.

    And yet, development continues to make storage more efficient and highly scalable. A team in the Netherlands says it has come up with a new solution that encodes one bit with a single atom, which would house about 1 KB onto an area no larger than 100 nanometers across. As described by TechCrunch’s Devin Coldeway, this would put about 500 TB per square inch – about 500 times greater than current drive technology. The system is being described more as a microscopic storage array than an actual hard drive, but if it can be commercialized it would revolutionize storage for an entirely new generation of data services. At the moment, however, the structure is only stable at about 77 degrees kelvin – about the temperature of liquid nitrogen.

    At the same time, solid state storage is seeing a steady stream of advancements designed to address some of its key drawbacks as an enterprise solution. One of these is durability, which plays directly to the lifecycle cost discrepancies with both disk and tape. As storage analyst Randy Kerns noted at the recent Flash Forward conference in London, vendors like SanDisk are now offering 10-year warranties on some of their products, which not only enhances their TCO but opens the door to applications that were previously seen as inappropriate for SSDs, such as archiving. The next step will be to disaggregate the controller from the underlying storage so organizations can still take advantage of emerging storage management solutions while leveraging the basic media for the long term.

    In most practical respects, the battle between solid state and hard disk is over, but there is still plenty of life left in all forms of storage media to ensure a vibrant and healthy storage ecosystem overall. Just as there is a tool for every job, there is a medium for every application.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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