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Western Digital ups the ante with 26 TB HDDs, new SSDs

Western Digital expanded its cloud storage devices with two new HDDs, a CMR drive with 22 TB and an SMR drive with 26 TB, and a new SSD form factor.

Western Digital has taken the lead in the race to deliver higher capacity storage with the release of two new HDDs, 26 TB and 22 TB drives, as well as a higher performant, new form factor SSD.

Western Digital (WD) plans to deliver a new 26 TB HDD -- dubbed UltraSMR -- along with a conventional magnetic recording (CMR) drive, the 22 TB Ultrastar DC HC570 HDD. On the SSD front, WD is sampling its PCIe Gen 4, Ultrastar DC SN650 NVMe SSD that includes both a 2.5-inch form factor and an E1.L form factor.

The need for storage capacity is accelerating, particularly among hyperscalers that hunger for more capacity to support the users driving demand up every day, according to Ashley Gorakhpurwalla, executive vice president and general manager at WD's HDD business unit.

"[Multiple exabytes of data] have been created, going to multiple cloud platforms, getting archived and replicated," Gorakhpurwalla said. "Unstructured data is pumped into recommendation engines, into advertising engines, into content filters and copyright filters. "

A few years ago, total hard drive shipments approached a zettabyte, Gorakhpurwalla said. Within a few years there will be a demand for multiple zettabytes a year. To deliver on that, there must be a focus on capacity and density.

WD Ultrastar drives DC HC570, DC HC670 and DC SN650
The new Western Digital cloud storage includes the Ultrastar DC SN650, HC570 and HC670.

WD goes ultra

WD unveiled the largest HDD to date with the 26 TB shingled magnetic recording drive. SMR drives have data tracks that partially overlap like a shingle, allowing up to 10% more capacity per disk, with the drawback of delayed random writes. Combining SMR with OptiNAND, a combination of HDD and flash that helps extend the capacity, can increase capacity an additional 20% to 30% in total, Gorakhpurwalla said.

This capacity increase goes directly to a customer's TCO, a large jump compared to typical HDD capacity, Gorakhpurwalla said.

Having a 26 TB HDD when the closest competitor offers 20 TB is fairly significant, according to Tom Coughlin, president at digital storage consulting firm Coughlin Associates. It gives WD the highest capacity HDD currently, but its HDD lacks the dual actuator seen in competing technology from Seagate, which is expected to catch up in capacity.

"It is a minimal additional cost to do the dual actuator, just split the actuator," resulting in near double the performance, Coughlin said.

Race to the largest capacity

This increased capacity is in demand from companies with growing storage needs, like cloud document storage provider Dropbox.

Dropbox uses a hybrid environment to support its 700 million users and their 800 billion pieces of content. The type of content stored in Dropbox, as well as the storage needs, are changing, said Ali Zafar, head of hybrid infrastructure at Dropbox, during this week's What's Next Western Digital event in San Francisco.

"Over the last decade, the type of data has changed, where now we have a lot of richer media. That's where SMR comes in," Zafar said. "It allows us to scale efficiently and rapidly. And when we talk about the advantages of SMR, it's the additional capacity [that] has been a game changer for us."

New technology, such as the 26 TB HDDs, enables Dropbox to scale while optimizing the company's TCO, Zafar said.

WD also introduced this week the largest CMR drive on the market -- 22 TB -- which uses the company's OptiNAND. OptiNAND provides 64 GB of NAND memory for metadata to increase capacity per platter by freeing up space.

Unlike the previous nine-disk HDD released by WD in August 2021, the new one uses 10 disks, like its competitor Seagate, with two more terabytes under the hood. Another technology used to hit the higher capacity was energy-assisted perpendicular magnetic recording (ePMR), a technology that applies a small electrical current to create a more consistent write, using less space. This technology is used in WD's 16 and 18 TB HDD, Gorakhpurwalla said.

The 22 TB HDD ships to customers next month, while the 26 TB HDD will ship this summer.

Expanding capacity with HDDs is only part of the solution for hyperscalers, according to WD; they also need the performance of flash storage.

Different form factors, higher flash performance

For cloud usage, HDDs have a well-plotted course, according to Rob Soderbery, executive vice president and general manager of flash at WD.

"[HDDs are] the solution for content storage, tremendous capacity growth. Somewhat different dynamics [are] going on in SSDs," Soderbery said.

The new Ultrastar DC SN650 NVMe SSDs come with up to 15.36 TB in both 2.5-inch, for traditional infrastructure, and E1.L form factor for higher density and potentially better TCO. The drives use BiCS fifth-generation 3D TLC NAND and the PCIe Gen 4 interface. With in-house SSD controller designs and firmware development, WD said the new SSD is made with hyperscalers in mind.

The E1.L Enterprise and Data Center Standard Form Factor enables more density and better thermal control, meaning hyperscalers can get more storage in the same footprint. The new SSDs are high-capacity TLC drives that allow for dense flash pools. The drives also used zoned storage, Coughlin said.

"Zoned namespaces means that I could have different types of flash or use flash differently in different parts of the SSD," Coughlin said. "It can be thought of as a tiering approach: different types of memory for different applications."

Next year, WD will look to make storage and compute announcements around its sixth-generation BiCS NAND, Soderbery said.

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