The next generation of storage technologies has finally been unveiled for 2014. Although the popular trend in enterprise data storage over the last few years has been the adoption of solid-state drives, a faster and more dense Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) drive has been introduced by HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies), as well as a 6 Terabyte platter hard drive encased in Helium. On the solid-state side, Intel has released the enthusiast/enterprise 730 Series.
HGST Ultrastar C15K600
To the credit of HGST, its factory part numbers are quite straightforward. As the name implies, the UltraStar C15K600 is a 2.5", 600 GB, 15,000 RPM enterprise drive. With technology journalists and Linus Torvalds heralding (or hastening, as the case may be) the death of traditional hard disks, it is difficult to make traditional hard drives appealing from a marketing standpoint.
Or, that would be the case, if this was a product that standard consumers would purchase, or even be aware of. In the case of the Ultrastar C15K600, the difference is abundantly clear when comparing it to the products on offer from other vendors: Seagate's Savvio 15K.3 and Toshiba's MK01GRRB/R top out at 300 GB at 15,000 RPM, and Western Digital's fastest is the 10,000 RPM / 900 GB Xe series.
According to the data sheet (PDF), the UltraStar C15K600 series incorporates a 128MB buffer. 600 GB SKU has three platters, at 200 GB per platter. For compatibility with legacy systems, the C15K600 series is available in 512n format as well as 512e / 4Kn format drives. The former has an areal density of 528 Gbits/in², while the latter two are at 460Gbits/in². The drives have a 2 million hour mean time between failure (MTBF) and an annualized failure rate (AFR) of 0.44%, for which HGST provides a five-year limited warranty.
Intel 730 Series Solid-State Drive
Intel's new enthusiast-class 730 series combines the performance (and to a great extent, the parts) of an enterprise-class drive at a price that end users can afford without having to take out a small business loan. Unfortunately, the 730 series has the absolutely baffling design choice of some sort of electronic skull (apparently called "Skulltrail") etched onto the case of the drive. Evidently, such ridiculous designs are needed for the enthusiast market, which probably consists solely of IT professionals, Bitcoin miners, and gamers. That being said, nothing indicates a quality product quite like the universal symbol for death.
Ignoring for now the awful aesthetics, the underlying silicon is excellent. Available in 240 GB and 480 GB configurations, both drives use Intel’s third-generation controller and 20nm MLC NAND. Intel claims a write endurance of 70 GB per day, and backs that up with a five-year warranty. The controller in question is the same one found in Intel's Datacenter S3700 and S3500 drives, but is factory overclocked to 600MHz. The 480 GB SKU has 528 GB onboard, but reserved for bad block replacement and wear levelling. Intel touts the 480 GB drive as having sustained reads up to 550MB/s and 470 MB/s.
HGST Ultrastar He6
The most exciting news for organizations (and professional data hoarders) waiting for a breakthrough beyond 4 TB per drive comes in the Helium-filled HGST Ultrastar He6. The density of 6 TB was accomplished by cramming seven individual platters into one drive, surrounded by helium gas to prevent head collisions. Due to the difficulty of preventing helium gas from escaping, the fact that this product is shipping at all is itself a feat. HGST is backing its confidence in the tech with a five-year warranty.
However, the Ultrastar He6 is not suited to particularly fast write operations—storing a live SQL database would not be the best use case for the drive. The Ultrastar He6 is better suited for backups, cold storage, and other binary blobs that do not require overwrite operations. However, the Ultrastar He6 is better suited to this in theory than competing Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) technology from Seagate, though Seagate has yet to ship any drives using this technology. Despite this, HGST is keeping quiet about the spin speed and cache onboard the Ultrastar He6.
Aside from server applications, the Ultrastar He6 is also an exciting prospect for home theater installations, as the drive density and use case is perfect for a write-once task like backups of films, television shows, or music videos. Potential punters will need deep pockets for such a task, as the price of the Ultrastar He6 is $800—making it an expensive proposition from a cost-per-GB standpoint.
Has your organization abandoned traditional hard drives in favor of solid-state? Do you think that Helium drives are here to stay, or is it just a quick stop on the way to Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR)? Can you think of a better design for Intel's enthusiast hardware than "Skulltrail"? Let us know in the comments.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.