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HGST Launches Helium-Filled Hard Drives
HGST Launches Helium-Filled Hard Drives

By Nancy Owano
November 4, 2013 11:24AM

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The Ultrastar He6 helium-filled hard drives from HGST are arriving on the market at a time when energy efficiency is especially important to data centers and enterprise I.T. managers. HGST's Ultrastar He6 helium-filled hard drives provide an innovative solution that should help reduce the total cost of ownership of enterprise storage systems.
 


On Monday, San Jose, California-based HGST (formerly known as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies), announced a new type of hard drive that aims to provide increased storage capacity for data centers, but using lower power consumption in the process. The interesting twist is that the new Ultrastar He6 6TB hard disk drive (HDD) uses helium to improve efficiency.

HGST, which is now a Western Digital company, explained how using helium makes a huge difference: "Helium has only one-seventh the density of air. Replacing air with helium inside a hard drive dramatically reduces the turbulence caused by the spinning disk, cuts power consumption, and results in a lower temperature within the disk drive."

Translation: The drives need less power to push their platters around and there is less turbulence inside the enclosure. The reduction in turbulence for a spinning disk allows HGST to offer a seven-disk design in a traditional 3.5-inch form factor. That is where things get interesting. The increase in the platter count means up to seven platters can be put inside the 3.5-inch drive enclosure. The Ultrastar He6 hard drive offers a 6-terabyte capacity, which is significant capacity, yet still reduces the energy needed to run the drive by up to 23 percent.

Safety Issues Addressed

HGST proactively took care of safety questions in its Monday announcement, assuring that managers need not worry about helium leakage. The HDD is hermetically sealed.

"Helium tends to leak through seals and HGST had to develop hermetic seal technology to stop this from happening." (This also means the He6 could be used in a liquid cooling scheme as the liquid cannot get into the drive and damage it.) The company addressed any questions about helium gas inhalation: the drive “contains less helium than a balloon, so is perfectly safe.”

Who stands to benefit from the new helium-filled drives? The fact that the technology can increase capacity while lowering power consumption and operating temperature serves up an easy answer: managers of enterprise servers and data centers seeking higher-capacity storage within a justifiable budget.

According to the company, "The amount of data that companies need to store is growing exponentially, but IT budgets remain flat. With 6TB, a low 5.3 idle watts, a reduced weight of 640g, and running at 4-5°C cooler, the new Ultrastar He6 lowers data center TCO on virtually every level."

John Rydning, research vice president at analyst firm IDC, is impressed with what he sees. "HDD industry areal density growth is not keeping pace with the rate of storage capacity growth in enterprise data centers," he said. The helium-filled hard drives are arriving on the market at a time, he added, when "IT managers are seeking out capacious and energy efficient new disk drives that will help to reduce the total cost of ownership of enterprise storage systems."

Storage Needs at CERN

Customers such as HP, Netflix, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and Huawei were testing prototypes; in all, the company tapped key OEM, cloud and research leaders to qualify the drive, along with social media and search companies.

Olof Bärring, a CERN IT department section leader for facility planning and procurement, noted that over the past 20 years CERN has recorded more than 100 petabytes of physics data and the projected data growth rate is accelerating.

"To scale efficiently, we must deploy vast amounts of cost-effective storage with the best TCO," he said. CERN tested the helium drive. Barring said it looks "very promising." The Ultrastar He6 hard drive, he said, surpassed expectations on power, cooling and storage density requirements.
 

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