Terabyte drives arrive

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Big disks--really big disks--are here. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (GST) pulled the wraps off its 1TB capacity hard drives just five days into 2007, and Seagate says it will spin out its version before the end of the first half of this year. Both vendors say they're not just pushing the disk version of Moore's Law to the limit; rather, they're responding to user need for even greater capacities.

Hitachi's Deskstar 7K1000 is the first 1TB drive and, at a $399 list price, it will be marketed initially to consumers. But while it might start life as a receptacle for family photos and YouTube videos, it's also destined for the data center.

"It wouldn't shock me if you saw this in enterprise systems, shipped from the enterprise storage suppliers, by the end of the third quarter," says Doug Pickford, director of market and product strategy at Hitachi GST. "They'll be very motivated to get that product into the field."

Seagate Technology, which held the capacity crown with its 750GB Barracuda ES drive, says its 1TB drives will show up in enterprise systems at approximately the same time. "We expect volume shipments in the first half," says Pete Steege, Seagate's marketing manager for enterprise storage. Unlike Hitachi GST, however, Seagate doesn't plan to lead with a consumer model before an enterprise version. "Our goal is to have them come out at pretty much the same time," says Steege.

Capacity-starved storage managers will welcome the big drives, but along with the increased real estate, some risks may increase. In a RAID configuration, a rebuild of 1TB drives will naturally take longer than one with smaller drives. "It's definitely something the system builders have to deal with," says Steege. Brian Garrett, analyst and technical director at ESG Lab, Milford, MA, concurs: "Larger drives take a long time to rebuild using traditional parity-based RAID algorithms." Garrett suggests using nonparity RAID configurations like RAID-1 or RAID-10, but notes there are other options. "RAID-6 and similar techniques are gaining in popularity," he says.

Both vendors' drives spin at 7,200 rpm, so they're not a good fit for performance-hungry apps. But they'll be suitable for a wide range of less-demanding apps. "The first thing we're going to see, is we're going to see it in nearline," says Hitachi GST's Pickford. Although these drives may end up in workgroup or small- to medium-sized business arrays, other storage-hungry apps, like data protection, appear to have the inside track. "Backup to disk using VTL [virtual tape library] is a good candidate," says ESG Lab's Garrett. "Archive applications are prime candidates."

If you've used 500GB or 750GB drives, you're not likely to notice any drop in performance. Pickford says Hitachi GST didn't have to make many tradeoffs "to stuff all the gigabytes in the drive." Similarly, Seagate says the increase in areal density actually boosts performance a bit.

"In one spin of that disk you're going to see a lot more bits," says Seagate's Steege. But don't expect souped up 1TB drives spinning at 10,000 rpm or 15,000 rpm. Both vendors say they could spin the disks faster, but the results would be counterproductive.

"If you spin a disk faster, then the power consumption goes up dramatically--by the fourth power of the diameter," says Willis Whittington, senior manager of product marketing at Seagate's enterprise storage division. "So it's a huge increase." But if you crave still more capacity, you won't have to wait very long. Perpendicular recording is the key to ever-higher capacities, and it's a technology that still has a lot of legroom. Using the same number of platters as in today's 1TB drive, Pickford says perpendicular recording "probably takes us to a 5TB device."

It might be prudent to approach these big drives with some caution, however. "Big jumps in SATA capacity can be risky," says Garrett. "Very early adopters may want to consider dual-parity schemes for an extra measure of protection."

--Rich Castagna

This was first published in March 2007

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