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6TB helium-filled hard drives take flight, bump capacity 50%

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 5, 2013
Helium in drives enables a 23% decrease in power use

"Data is going to the moon. As we deploy solutions that are tens and hundreds of petabytes, anything you can do to increase density is a boon," said Jimmy Daley, director of Smart Storage at Hewlett-Packard. "We are seeing about 2-watt lower power on random workloads compared to today's 4TB. That's about 20% [power reduction]."

Daley is currently testing more than a dozen of HGST's He6 6TB drives in HP's SL4500 servers, and expects hundreds of the drives to be in the servers by the end of the month.

The SL4500 servers hold up to 60 drives each. Previously, the SL4500 server, using 4TB drives, could hold a quarter of a petabyte, or 250TB of data; the box could potentially hold one-third of a petabyte, or about 333TB of data with the 6TB drives.

"To me, it is a clear indication of how important density is," Daley said. "Density translates into reduction of footprint."

The helium drive was first announced last year under the HGST's HelioSeal moniker as a path for higher capacity storage for decades to come.

The new Ultrastar He6 drive offers the best total cost of ownership for high-capacity environments, such as cloud storage, massive scale-out environments, disk-to-disk backup, and replicated or RAID environments, HGST said.

But helium-filled drives can only boost density so much, Zhang said.

4TB v 6TB
HGST's Ultrastar 4TB drive vs. the new Ultrastar He6 6TB drive

After the initial boost in capacity for today's perpendicular magnetic recording drive technology, it will then take newer technologies, such as HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording), BPM (bit patterned recoding), and SMR or Shingled Magnetic Recording, to further increase the areal density of the drive platters themselves.

Today's hard drive platters max out at 625Gbit per square inch, or the equivalent to more than 1TB of capacity per platter. Seagate sees SMR, which overlaps bits on a platter like a shingled roof, as having the potential to knock hard drive capacity out of the park with 1Tbit per square inch areal density.

Seagate has plans to release 5TB hard drives based on SMR early next year and a 10TB hard drive by 2016 and 20TB by 2020.

Using HAMR technology, HGST expects to take drive platter areal density to 5 terabits (Tbits) per square inch.

Even with the areal density developments, helium will continue to be a key component in boosting capacity and reducing power requirements. The industry is expected to continue using the lighter gas in emerging drive technology, Zhang said.


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