LAST SEPTEMBER, The INQUIRER was invited to the birth of a revolution for storage company HGST.
The Big Bang event in San Francisco saw HGST president Mike Cordano declare that the company was "no longer your father's storage company", pledging to move over to a combination of PCIE flash and helium filled drives, and away from traditional air-filled spindles.
Seven months later we caught up with chief technology officer Dave Tang, one of the architects of the transformation, during a recent trip to London to find out how it's all going.
"The acquisition of Skyeria has opened the possibility of some new lines of flash products beyond the likes of the PCIE cards we're already producing, and maybe some augmentations at a system level to create more robust storage systems," he told us.
Meanwhile, the company's unique approach to the continuation of the spindle drive legacy, which comes in the form of a helium sealed drive, which allows for faster speeds and higher capacities than air, continues to be a winner after the first model became an "overly successful experiment".
"The latest announcement on the helium side came with the rollout of the Active Archive system, which we previewed at the Big Bang event, which comes in the form of a 4.7PB rack-level array and was a result of the acquisition in March of Amplidata," Tang said.
The success of helium led HGST to announce that it was to abandon air drives altogether. No new models will be produced by the company, which will instead increase the capacity of its cold storage offerings with a 'shingling' technique ideally suited to write once, read many applications.
"Since we introduced those helium drives we've actually increased the Minimum Time Between Failure rating for them to 2.5 million hours (or about 230 years), which is the highest in the industry," he explained.
"That's in part because it runs cooler, but also because flying the head closer to the disk makes for much more reliable access to data."
Whenever we talk to HGST, the million dollar question is always why it remains committed to mechanical drives when so many of its peers are moving exclusively to flash. Tang remains adamant that there's a lot of life left in mechanical for HGST's target market.
"When it comes to capacity, mechanical disks still have the advantage in cost per gigabyte. I mean you could compare it to tape, but that doesn't have the accessibility."
The Active Archive array also has an extra trick up its sleeve to potentially save days of downtime when a fault occurs.
"With Active Archive we now have what's called Erasure Coding. Whereas RAID restoration can take weeks, Erasure Coding looks at pools of thousands of devices and, rather than try to grab the image of the failing device, it will reconstitute the protection that drive provides, creating a self-healing environment," he said.
Tang is upbeat about the future for HGST and its role in the market. "The beauty of today's industry is that the diversity of data is increasing and so is the need for different types of storage solutions, so it's a good time for us to be exploring," he said.
There are certainly no plans for a second Big Bang. HGST has demonstrated that it is not only committed, but successful in carving its own furrow in the industry and is continuing to innovate to be the most unexceptional damn storage company it can be. µ
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