Western Digital Corp. said on Thursday that it is on-track to ship its helium-filled hard disk drives with enlarged capacities to select customers this quarter. The company even revealed that the first sealed hard drives will utilize seven platters. Unfortunately, as it was revealed earlier, those products will not become truly mass devices for several quarters to come.
“We are on track to launch our new seven-disk helium-based sealed-drive this quarter to a select group of customers who value the total cost of ownership savings delivered by this innovative product,” said Stephen Milligan, chief executive officer of Western Digital.
At present, Western Digital itself and its subsidiary HGST utilize proven 800GB platters inside their five-disc capacity-optimized hard drives. In case the same platters are used for helium-filled HDDs, then WD will be able to offer 5TB – 5.5TB capacities to customers needing maximum storage space per drive. In case the company decides to use new-generation enterprise-grade platters with higher aerial density, then 6TB capacity point is possible.
The company stressed that while the initial volumes of sealed helium-filled hard drives will be small, they will be commercial products and will ship for revenue.
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.