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Storage pros: Big or small, you still have to hit the sweet spot

How does size matter in a hard drive?

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Claus Egge - Storage Consultant

There is no real dilemma between 2.5-inch hard disk drives (HDDs) and 3.5-inch HDDs, since a tiered and well-balanced storage pool will accommodate both, as well as solid state drives (SSD). A detailed analysis weighing up all factors of cost, performance, energy consumption, physical footprint and reliability would be the ideal way to choose a storage hierarchy for particular data storage requirement. But, in reality, customers’ choice of disk arrays owes a lot to historical decisions.

This can provide an inhibiting factor towards the acceptance of 2.5-inch HDD shelves and arrays. It will take time for customers affected by this to understand and accept the differentiated attributes of 2.5-inch drives.

Small is often good in disk drive engineering where vibration, power consumption, and overall I/O speeds all benefit from the use of 2.5-inch HDDs. Having more spindles in a shelf means more read/write heads can be simultaneously active. And while the bits per square inch number keeps on growing, the question then becomes what is the best-sized basket for my storage eggs.

Some people worry about their HDDs being too big while others dislike large fragmented clusters of smaller HDDs. The 2.5-inch form factor will grow in enterprise arrays exactly because its spin speeds and capacity levels offer greater choice at better price points. There is still a role for 3.5-inch drives, such as providing bulk capacity data storage, but expect this form factor to play a lesser role in high performance storage array applications.

Whichever format dominates in the future, the magnetic spinning disk still has a future ahead of it, although it is being complemented by faster (SSD) alternatives. However, the design of future disk arrays will be dictated by new error correction philosophies, because RAID runs out of steam as disk numbers and capacities increase. But that is a different story...

Claus Egge has provided services to the ICT industry, focusing on markets, providers and not least on the technology of storage, for more than 28 years. See www.clausegge.com.


The consensus is that 2.5-inch drives will predominate in performance-focused storage array applications, with 3.5-inch ones being preferred for bulk capacity ones. There is a general agreement that RAID rebuild times on high capacity 3.5-inch drives is becoming untenable and that is a problem that needs to be sorted. This could mean that enterprise servers and storage arrays move to 2.5-inch SATA drives for bulk data storage while desktops stick with the 3.5-inch drives. Maybe they will go 2.5-inch too though, with bulk data stored at the other end of a LAN or WAN link. As ever, we will have to wait and see. ®

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