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Hitachi GST plugs its areal hole with shingles

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Drive portfolio

Collins said Hitachi GST needed a full portfolio and one in which the product's command queuing, caching and error-checking and correction (ECC) methods and interfaces are the same. This is important as it means an OEM or large customer can use one code stack to address all the portfolio members.

The company sees a need for a portfolio to span SAS and SATA interface SSDs, PCI flash products, and a range of HDD speeds and capacities from fast, lower capacity drives to slower but much more capacious drives for storing longer term data. Such a portfolio is needed to cover the storage requirements for tier 0 (hot), 1 (active), 2 (less active) and 3 (cold) data. Collins seems particularly interested in PCIe flash for hot data. We note that Intel, with whom Hitachi GST is working on its coming SAS and Fibre Channel SSD, could be a presence in that product space.

"The Wintel platform has been a major influence on our product designs for the past 20 years and will be our bread and butter for the next five years. But ARMs and Android devices are opening up whole new opportunities going forward."

In general HDD use cases are becoming more fragmented and a single basic spinning disk technology, such as PMR, can no longer cover all these needs, which is why new technologies are coming into play.

One incoming technology is a combination of flash and spinning disk technology, so-called hybrid drives.

Hybrid drives

Notebook storage is a hard disk drive-dominated market, with some 95 per cent of products using spinning disk for storage. Some low-end netbooks use flash and so do premium notebooks costing more than £900 or so, the MacBook Air and so forth, and flash is creeping into Notebook storage from the edges as it were.

Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid Drive

Hybrid hard drives, Collins says, could slow down the cannibalisation of notebook HDD use by flash. A hybrid drive adds flash cache inside the disk drive enclosure to provide flash I/O speed as well as spinning disk capacity. The state-of-the-art drive, the only one of its kind, is Seagate's 2.5-inch Momentus XT with 4GB of flash.

Collins thinks: "The current hybrid drive is not a compelling offering." That's due, he says, to its relatively small flash capacity, and use of expensive single level cell NAND. If you could find a way to use more affordable multi-level cell (MLC) flash then that would still add $30 to $40 to the drive cost. It has to be worth doing from a customer's point of view.

OEMs have told Hitachi GST that they think there is a need for file system intelligence in the drive which would handle how you move data back and forth between the flash and disk and make a better-performing drive.

Collins said SMR drives would have that level of intelligence and, if we could find a way to make MLC work, then we might envisage a hybrid drive with these features:

  • 8 to 16GB of MLC flash;
  • Embedded intelligence
  • Behaves like an SSD
  • 1TB capacity

Not that Hitachi GST has said as much, but we might conceive of such a drive coming out between now and the middle of 2013.

Using the cloud

Milligan said all of HItachi GST's product developments that are nearing shippable product will ship. He specifically mentioned consumer products in the regard. It's not as if anything is on hold or being canned because of the pending acquisition. That acquisition has not closed yet, although it is on track to close in the fourth quarter, and it is business as usual. No products have swords poised over them.

It seems likely that all the HDD vendors will take the Hitachi GST course and be concerned with stimulating and encouraging a content creating and consuming cloud ecosystem to emerge because that will help ensure that the content gets stored on their devices. It means they have to talk and have relationships with all the major players who own or use code stacks that interface to disk drives and SSDs.

Although the disk drive/flash drive industry has to stay deeply involved with areal density and MLC endurance intricacies, it will, to coin a phrase, have to get more nebulous in the future as well. ®

1. Others have used the term HAMR (Heat-assisted Magnetic Recording) but TAR seems to be replacing that.

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