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Western Digital Introducing Helium Hard Drives

Data storage has come a long way from when it was first introduced. We’ve had tapes, floppy discs and different types of hard drives. The two current most popular types of hard drives are hard disk and solid state. Western Digital is looking to introduce a new contender to the field: helium hard drives.
Although a lot of these advancements often never get out of testing stages, Western Digital is looking to make helium hard drives a real, viable purchasing option. Current, standard hard drives just contain air, but the use of helium apparently has a lot of benefits.
The company are planning to launch a range of these helium hard drives. The 3.5 inch data centre drives are said to be available later this year.
According to Brendan Collins, the vice president of product marketing at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (a subsidiary of Western Digital), the helium drives reduce internal friction and thus reduce drag on the disk’s platters. This decreased drag will mean that the drives can run at temperatures around four to five degrees cooler than other 7200 rpm drives. Apparently this has the benefit of 23% reduced power consumption and a 40% capacity increase.
The spindle needs less power to turn, which means that the seven platter helium drives will run at 5.3 watts of power in idle compared to a current five platter drive idling at 6.9 watts. Additionally, the higher capacity of the drives means that fewer physical servers can be used in data centres to achieve the same storage space. According to Collins, up to 40% of the costs in new cloud data centres are because of power consumption and floor space. HGST hopes to market their helium hard drives as a great cost reduction.
These helium drives will mean that platter count can be increased from five to seven as well as an improved platter density. HGST also plans to put the drives into use with technology such as Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording and Shingled Magnetic Recording (which are a few years away from production).
The drive will also be sealed securely to keep humidity out of the drive, which according to HGST will mean that the drive can still be used in extremer environmental conditions. According to Collins, the industry has been trying to achieve that for the past 10 years. The insurance that the gas doesn’t leak and that the drives can be efficiently produced en masse is the key to their propriety technology, he says.
Collins believes that this technology will be around for the next decade and will form the foundation of cloud-based storage in data centres. He said their helium drives are more of a platform than a product and that these drives will be targeted for public cloud computing systems and corporate data centres.
However, it’s not known how long these drives are going to be around for. The United States is actually currently running out of helium. It’s a non-renewable gas and a 1996 law forced the US government to sell off their helium supplies at a low cost. A bill is trying to be put in place to preserve more of the gas and sell some of it at higher market rates. It is unknown what the future for this will be and how it might affect Western Digital’s plans.


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