The former Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, which now belongs to Western Digital Corp., has announced a new helium-filled hard disk drive (HDD) platform, which allows installation of more than five platters per drive, something that increases capacity while significantly reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) for enterprise and cloud customers. The first helium-filled HDDs are expected to emerge in 2013.
The helium-filled hard disk drives can incorporate up to seven platters inside typical 3.5" form-factor, which eliminates need for a breakthrough in areal density to create higher-capacity hard drives. Helium-filled HDDs will not only increase capacities of hard drives and decrease per-gigabyte costs, but may significantly improve datacenter TCO on virtually every level: capacity, power, cooling and storage density as they directly affect such measures as cost-per-terabyte, watt-per-TB, TB-per-system weight and TB-per-square foot.
The density of helium is one-seventh that of air, delivering significant advantages to HGST’s sealed-drive platform. The lower density means dramatically less drag force acting on the spinning disk stack so that mechanical power into the motor is substantially reduced. The lower helium density also means that the fluid flow forces buffeting the disks and the arms, which position the heads over the data tracks, are substantially reduced allowing for disks to be placed closer together (i.e., seven disks in the same enclosure) and to place data tracks closer together (i.e., allowing continued scaling in data density). The lower shear forces and more efficient thermal conduction of helium also mean the drive will run cooler and will emit less acoustic noise.
HGST will release specific capacities points and product specifications when the platform launches in 2013. With 1TB platters, which have been on the market for about a year now, 7TB HDD can become a reality already next year. At present it is unclear whether HGST intends to use helium-filing technology for consumer hard disk drives to boost their capacities, or the tech will only be used for enterprise-class HDDs.
“The benefits of operating a HDD with helium fill have been known for a long time. The breakthrough is in the product and process design, which seals the helium inside the HDD enclosure cost effectively in high-volume manufacturing. We are excited about the introduction of this platform, which [...] is the result of more than six years of development in materials science, mechanical engineering and process technology. Thanks to the hard work of our research and engineering teams, our initial pilot lines are up and operational, putting HGST in position to introduce this technology first into the market,” said Steve Campbell, chief technology officer at HGST.
At the Western Digital Investor event, HGST compared the power consumption between a helium-filled drive and an equivalent air-filled drive side-by-side, demonstrating a reduction in power consumption for the helium-filled drive of 23%. Taking into account the extra capacity coming from two additional disks, the improvement in watts-per-TB is 45%. In addition to consuming less power, the drive operates four degrees Celsius cooler, requiring less cooling in the system rack and data center. This reduction in power and associated cooling cost significantly contributes to the lower TCO of the helium-filled platform. The critical watt-per-TB metric will further improve over time as the helium-filled drive platform enables significantly higher drive capacities in future product generations.