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Seagate Introduces Helium-Infused 10TB Enterprise Capacity HDDs

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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Seagate announced its new Enterprise 3.5 Capacity 10 TB HDD, and aside from the obvious advantage of the 25 percent increase in capacity, it also comes with the addition of a helium architecture. Seagate is keeping many of the details of its latest addition secret for now; the company did not reveal the spindle speed (RPM), though one would assume it is the standard 7,200 rpm typically found in the nearline HDD space. The company also is not revealing any performance metrics or the amount of cache employed, and it is possible that the drive employs two distinct types of cache.

On to what we do know: The Enterprise 3.5 Capacity comes in the standard 3.5" form factor and employs CMR (Conventional Magnetic Recording). Seagate did verify that its reference to CMR translates to PMR (Perpendicular Magnetic Recording), which is the standard technology employed in HDDs for the last decade. This is an important distinction, however, because many of the new high-density offerings feature SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording), which have unique performance characteristics. The continuation of the standard PMR technology is important, as it is plug-and-play with standard computing platforms.

Utilizing helium inside of an HDD (in lieu of air) reduces the internal air resistance, which in turn reduces vibration and head flutter. This allows the platters to spin easier, thus enabling a radical power savings by reducing the amount of power required for the motor. Reducing vibration allows the vendors to employ thinner platters, and thus additional platters to provide more capacity.

The new drive features 7 platters and 14 heads, which is an increase of two additional platters and 4 heads in comparison to Seagate's previous-generation product. Seagate did not reveal the actual power consumption metrics but indicated that it provides the industry's lowest power-per-TB ratio. The 10 TB models feature Seagate's PowerChoice technology, which offers a series of idle/sleep states that reduce power consumption. The Enterprise Capacity HDD also includes PowerBalance, which reduces the RPM of the drive to reduce power consumption during active operation. The drives are also significantly lighter than Seagate's other offerings, which is becoming important as datacenters transition to incredibly dense architectures that present floor loading challenges.

The new HDDs feature a 2.5 million hour MTBF, which matches HGST's latest helium HDDs. This important distinction indicates Seagate's helium platform is maturing quickly - the typical threshold for an air-based enterprise HDD is 2 million hours. The drive also features both 6 Gbps SATA and 12 Gbps SAS interfaces, but is only available in the 10 TB capacity.

Helium offers a wide range of benefits, and Seagate was not the first to notice. Actually, helium HDDs have been mired in R&D for several decades at all of the major HDD vendors. Containing the helium requires a sealed case, which is by far the largest technological hurdle, but the problem hasn't been helium containment. Manufacturing the drives in a cost-effective manner has been the major restriction that has kept helium HDDS confined inside the R&D labs.

Today's bleeding-edge hyperscale deployments employ open-air cooling designs that create significant drive reliability challenges, and sealing the drive blocks out harmful contaminants and humidity, which is a key weakness of the standard air-based HDDs.

The fact that helium HDDs reduce power consumption radically and tolerate harsh environments led to faster adoption than many predicted. In fact, Seagate CEO Stephen Luczo partially attributed the company's recent depressed revenue performance to a miss in the nearline segment in a recent investor call. Luczo even went as far as attributing the reduced sales to failing to execute a product portfolio that "fully addressed the demand in the nearline market." Many industry watchers attribute this miss to the unexpected popularity of HGST's helium offerings.

HGST's latest drives also feature its performance-boosting media cache technology. This technique allows the HDD to utilize a portion of the DRAM as a persistent cache, thus providing radical performance improvements in randomized workloads. The technique is more than marketing hype - we witnessed incredible performance gains in our lab testing.

Seagate offers a similar technique in its new 8 TB offerings that employs a dedicated NVM cache to capture incoming random write data, and it also provides incredible performance (stay tuned). Seagate indicated that its new 10 TB model also employs advanced caching algorithms, and it is safe to assume this is a similar technique, though we have yet to receive confirmation.

Seagate's move to helium, and implementing a caching architecture, is a smart move that will allow it to quickly regain its footing in the nearline market. Its newest addition is shipping now to select customers.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's IT Pro, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.