computers data center technology

Seagates LaCie touts a 25TB not a typo box o disks for your DESK • The Register

Image of a dismantled Seagate ST-225 harddisk....
Image of a dismantled Seagate ST-225 harddisk. 5¼″ MFM harddisk with a stepper actuator. Technical Data: Capacity: 21.4 MB Speed: 3600 rpm Average Seek Time: 65 ms Heads: 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seagate subsidiary LaCie has launched a set of external storage boxes using a 5TB Seagate hard drive – even though disk maker Seagate hasn’t officially launched a 5TB part.

via Seagates LaCie touts a 25TB not a typo box o disks for your DESK • The Register.

There isn’t a whole lot in the way of activity when it comes to new designs and advances in spinning magnetic hard drives these days. The capacity wars have plateau’d around 4TB or so. The next big threshold to cross is either Shingled recording or HAMR (which uses a laser to heat the surface just prior to a write being committed to the disk). Due to the technical advances required and the adoption by a slightly smaller field of manufacturers (there’s not as many here as there was a while ago) the speed at which higher density devices hit the market has slowed. We saw 1TB and 2TB quickly show up one after the other, but slowly eventually the 3TB and 4TB drives followed. And usually they were priced at the high end premium part of the market. Now Seagate has stitched together a 5TB drive and LaCie is rushing it into a number of its own desktop and pro-sumer level products.

The assumption for now is Seagate has adopted the shingled recording method (which folds writing of blocks of data in an overlapping pattern to increase the density). We’ll see how well that design decision performs over the coming months as the early adopters and fanbois needing each and every last terabyte of storage they can get for their game roms, warez and film/music collections.

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cloud computers data center technology

Facebook Shakes Hardware World With Own Storage Gear | Wired Enterprise |

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Now, Facebook has provided a new option for these big name Wall Street outfits. But Krey also says that even among traditional companies who can probably benefit from this new breed of hardware, the project isn’t always met with open arms. “These guys have done things the same way for a long time,” he tells Wired.

via Facebook Shakes Hardware World With Own Storage Gear | Wired Enterprise |

Interesting article further telling the story of Facebook’s Open Compute project. This part of the story concentrates on the mass storage needs of the social media company. Which means Wall Street data center designer/builders aren’t as enthusiastic about Open Compute as one might think. The old school Wall Streeters have been doing things the same way as Peter Krey says for a very long time. But that gets to the heart of the issue, what the members of the Open Compute project hope to accomplish. Rack Space AND Goldman Sachs are members, both contributing and getting pointers from one another. Rack Space is even beginning to virtualize equipment down to the functional level replacing motherboards with a Virtual I/O service. That would allow components to be ganged up together based on the frequency of their replacement and maintenance. According to the article, CPUs could be in one rack cabinet, DRAM in another, Disks in yet another (which is already the case now with storage area networks).

The newest item to come into the Open Compute circus tent is storage. Up until now that’s been left to Value Added Resellers (VARs) to provide. So different brand loyalties and technologies still hold sway for many Data Center shops including Open Compute. Now Facebook is redesigning the disk storage rack to create a totally tool-less design. No screws, no drive carriers, just a drive and a latch and that is it. I looked further into this tool-less phenomenon and found an interesting video at HP

HP Z-1 all in one CAD workstation

Along with this professional video touting how easy it is to upgrade this all in one design:

The Making of the HP Z1

Having recently purchased a similarly sized iMac 27″ and upgrading it by adding a single SSD drive into the case, I can tell you this HP Z1 demonstrates in every way possible the miracle of toolless designs. I was bowled over and remember back to some of my memories of different Dell tower designs over the years (some with more toolless awareness than others). If a toolless future is inevitable I say bring it on. And if Facebook ushers in the era of toolless Storage Racks as a central design tenet of Open Compute so much the better.

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Image via CrunchBase
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MIT boffin: Salted disks hold SIX TIMES more data • The Register

Close-up of a hard disk head resting on a disk...
Image via Wikipedia

This method shows, Yang says, that “bits can be patterned more densely together by reducing the number of processing steps”. The HDD industry will be fascinated to understand how BPM drives can be made at a perhaps lower-than-anticipated cost.

via MIT boffin: Salted disks hold SIX TIMES more data • The Register.

Moore’s Law applies to semi-conductors built on silicon wafers. And to a lesser extent it has had some application to hard disk drive storage as well. When IBM created is GMR (Giant Magneto-Resistive) read/write head technology and was able to develop it into a shipping product, a real storage arms race began. Densities increased, prices dropped and before you knew it hard drives went from 1Gbyte to 10Gbytes overnight practically speaking. Soon a 30Gbyte drive was the default average size boot and data drive for every shipping PC when just a few years before a 700Mbyte drive was the norm. This was a greater than 10X improvement with the adoption of a new technology.

I remember a lot of those touted technologies were added on and tacked on at the same time. PRML (Partial Read Maximum Likelihood) and Perpendicular Magnetic Recording  (PMR) too both helped keep the ball rolling in terms of storage density. IBM even did some pretty advanced work layering magnetic layers between magnetically insulating layers (using thin layers of Ruthenium) to help create even stronger magnetic recording media for the newer higher density drives.

However each new incremental advance has now run a course and the advances in storage technology are slowing down again. But there’s still one shining hope: Bit Patterned-Media (BPM). And in all the speculation about which technology is going to keep the storage density ball rolling, this new announcement is sure to play it’s part. A competing technique using lasers to heat the disk surface before writing data is also being researched and discussed, but is likely to force a lot of storage vendors to agree to make a transition to that technology simultaneously. BPM on the other hand isn’t so different and revolutionary that it must be rolled out en masse simultaneously by each drive vendor to insure everyone is compatible. And better yet BPM maybe a much lower cost and immediate way to increase storage densities without incurring big equipment and manufacturing machine upgrade costs.

So I’m thinking we’ll be seeing BPM much more quickly and we’ll continue to enjoy the advances in drive density for a little while longer.

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OCZ Launches PCIe-Based HDD/SDD Hybrid Drive

By bypassing the SATA bottleneck, OCZs RevoDrive Hybrid promises transfer speeds up to 910 MB/s and up to 120,000 IOPS 4K random write. The SSD aspect reportedly uses a SandForce SF-2281 controller and the hard drive platters spin at 5,400rpm. On a whole, the hybrid drive makes good use of the companys proprietary Virtualized Controller Architecture.

via OCZ Launches PCIe-Based HDD/SDD Hybrid Drive.

RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe
Image from: Tom's Hardware

Good news on the Consumer Electronics front, OCZ continues to innovate on the desktop aftermarket introducing a new PCIe Flash product that marries a nice 1TByte Hard Drive to a 100GB flash-based SSD. The best of both worlds all in one neat little package. Previously you might buy these two devices seperately, 1 average sized Flash drive and 1 spacious Hard drive. Then you would configure the Flash Drive as your System boot drive and then using some kind of alias/shortcut trick have the Hard drive as your user folder to hold videos, pictures, etc. This has caused some very conservative types to sit out and wait for even bigger Flash drives hoping to store everything on one logical volume. But what they really want is a hybrid of big storage and fast speed and that according to the press release is what the OCZ Hybrid Drive delivers. With a SandForce drive controller and two drives the whole architecture is hidden away along with the caching algorithm that moves files between the flash and hard drive storage areas. To the end user, they see but one big Hard drive (albeit installed in one of their PCI card slots), but experience the faster bootup times, faster application loading times. I’m seriously considering adding one of these devices into a home computer we have and migrating the bootdrive and user home directories over to that, using the current hard drives as the Windows backup device. I think that would be a pretty robust setup and could accommodate a lot of future growth and expansion.

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Drive suppliers hit capacity increase difficulties • The Register

Hard disk drive suppliers are looking to add platters to increase capacity because of the expensive and difficult transition to next-generation recording technology.

via Drive suppliers hit capacity increase difficulties • The Register.

This is a good survey of upcoming HDD platter technologies. HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording)and BPM (Bit Patterned Media) are the next generation after the current Perpendicular Magnetic Recording slowly hits the top end of its ability to squash together the 1’s and 0’s of a spinning hard drive platter. HAMR is like the old Floptical technology from the halls of Steve Job’s old NEXT Computer company. It uses a laser to heat the surface of the drive platter before the Read/Write head starts recording data to the drive. This ‘change’ in the state of the surface of the drive (the heat) helps align the magnetism of the bits written so that the tracks of the drive and the bits recorded inside them can be more tightly spaced. In the world of HAMR, Heat + Magnetism = bigger hard drives on the same old 3.5″ platters and 2.5″ platters we have now.  With BPM, the whole drive is manufactured to hold a set number of bits and tracks in advance. Each bit is created directly on the platter as a ‘well’ with a ring of insulating material surround it. The sizes of the wells are sufficiently small and dense enough to allow a light tighter spacing than PMR. But as is often the case the new technologies aren’t ready for manufacturing. A few test samples of possible devices are out in limited or custom made engineering prototypes to test the waters.

Given the slow down in silicon CMOS chip speeds from the likes of Intel and AMD along with the wall of PMR it would appear the frontier days of desktop computing are coming to a close. Gone are the days of Megahertz wars and now Gigabyte wars waged in the labs of review sites and test labs across the Interwebs. The torrid pace of change in hardware we all experienced from the release of Windows 95 to the release this year of Windows 7 has slowed to a radical incrementalism. Intel releases so many chips with ‘slight’ variations in clock speed and cache one cannot keep up with them all. Hard drive manufacturers try to increment their disks about .5 Tbytes every 6 months but now that will stop. Flash-based SSD will be the biggest change for most of us and will help break through the inherent speed barriers enforced by SATA and spinning disk technologies. I hope a hybrid approach is used mixing SSDs and HDDs for speed and size in desktop computers. Fast things that need to be fast can use the SDD, slow things that are huge in size or quantity will go to the HDD. As for next gen disk based technologies, I’m sure there will be a change to the next higher density technology. But it will no doubt be a long time in coming.