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HGST expands helium drives, adds NVMe flash

HGST embraces NVMe spec for flash while boosting capacity of its helium-filled hard drives in rollout of HDD and solid-state storage products.

HGST Inc., a Western Digital subsidiary, expanded its storage product lines for capacity and speed this week.

The vendor launched a flurry of new storage products on Tuesday, adding 8 TB and 10 TB helium-filled hard disk drives (HDDs) to the HGST Ultrastar line, as well as the vendor's first PCI Express (PCIe) flash drive supporting the nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) protocol.

HGST made two other flash moves. It extended a joint development agreement with Intel for NAND flash chips used in its non-NVMe-compliant, FlashMAX family of PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs) and unveiled Virident Space software, a logical volume manager that enables pooling of up to 38 TB of flash in a cluster.

In addition, the drive vendor revealed an archiving platform built on its 10 TB helium drives.

The 8 TB and 10 TB helium hard drives are based on HGST's HelioSeal technology, which first appeared in a 6 TB HGST drive in 2013. HelioSeal hermetically seals the drive and fills it with low-density helium to reduce turbulence and power consumption. HGST said using helium gas in place of air enables seven platters to be stacked in a traditional 3.5 inch format.

Future Ultrastar high-density drives to be built only on HelioSeal

The He8 8 TB helium drives "provide an efficient blend of capacity and performance" for cloud and hyper-scale storage and scale-out data center applications, said HGST President Mike Cordano. He said the drive uses 44% lower idle watts per terabyte than 6 TB air drives.

HGST designed the 10 TB HDD to enable cloud-to-cold storage and archive applications for data that demand long-term retention. The 10 TB drive combines HelioSeal technology and host-managed shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology, in which data is written in wide overlapping tracks to the disk, similar to the way roof shingles are installed. The as-yet unbranded 10 TB HelioSeal HDD is HGST's answer to the 8 TB air-filled HDD that rival Seagate launched using SMR technology in August.

HGST said the He8 and 10 TB HelioSeal drives are being sampled by OEM partners.

HGST also revealed it has started shipping the seventh and final generation of its air-filled HDD, the Ultrastar 7K6000, with capacity up to 6 TB at 1.2 TB per platter. The 7K6000 provides up to 6 TB of capacity at 1.2 TB per platter, and represents a 50% capacity boost over the Ultrastar 7K4000.

HGST pushes flash cards, pooled flash storage

Along with the new HDDs, HGST introduced the NVMe-compliant SN100 series of PCIe cards. The SN100 augments multi-level cell (MLC) NAND chips from Toshiba with HGST's CellCare NAND management technology to prolong flash endurance. The SSDs come in capacities of 800 GB, 1.6 TB and 3.2 TB.

HGST has found a way to add more layers to the typical storage hierarchy, including squeezing in flash to help drive down storage costs, said Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

"The value of NVMe is that it gets you closer to the processor. There is a massive performance gap between processor speed and the most flash-enhanced storage. That's the gap HGST has found and is trying to address," Peters said.

HGST said the SN100 family, which also is being sampled by customers, is geared for scale-out database workloads, including online transaction processing, big data analytics, high-frequency trading and virtualized environments.

"We've been working with our largest OEMs and cloud service providers to try and supercharge applications by bringing data closer to the compute power running the applications," HGST's Cordano said. "As we entered the market with enterprise SAS SSDs, we learned we needed to expand our product portfolio to include a PCIe offering."

In 2014, HGST acquired the deduplication and application acceleration technologies of VeloBit; NAND controller technology from sTec Inc.; and PCIe-based flash from Virident Systems. The company has integrated the acquired companies' product roadmaps to advance the concept of a "flash fabric" to create a pool of storage that can be shared across multiple applications and servers.

The first manifestation of the strategy is Virident Space, which enables the creation of a "concatenated" volume of shared flash by clustering up to 128 servers and 16 FlashMAX SSDs to create a logical mirrored volume of up to 38 TB of high-performing flash, said Mike Gustafson, Virident senior vice president and general manager.

Virident Space includes a high-availability mirrored cluster configurable through a graphical user interface. It is designed to boost the performance of the Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC) and Red Hat Global File System that typically rely on dedicated SAN storage.

HGST also introduced Active Archive, a series of technologies that "serve as building blocks to create massively scalable storage systems," said Mike Tang, senior vice president in HGST's Elastic Storage Platforms Group. The company claims its Active Archive appliance can provide storage density exceeding 10 petabytes in a single rack.

The physical design of the Active Archive platform is based on the HelioSeal architecture. Tang also highlighted partnerships with object storage vendor Amplidata and Avere Systems, which accelerate file storage performance. The new partnerships will help develop Active Archive products.

Active Archive was created to enable enterprises to exploit newly created data that otherwise could not be practically stored and accessed using traditional storage technologies.

"What we've done with Active Archive is filled the void that existed with traditional systems and archived systems," Tang said.

HGST parent company Western Digital is an investor in both of HGST's new archive partners. It invested $10 million in Amplidata Monday and in July led a $20 million funding round for Avere.

ESG's Peters said the software partnerships signal the directions HGST is heading.

"I'm not downplaying the 10 TB hard drives or the NVMe flash drive, but those are extensions of what HGST already does. Whereas adding Amplidata and Avere is a start to tiptoe in the area of being a storage systems provider," Peters said.

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What do you think HGST's embrace of the NVMe standard for PCIe drives?