Western Digital made a number of announcements yesterday related to their enterprise hard-disk drives (HDD) product lines. While there was nothing unexpected in terms of the products being announced, two aspects stood out - one was the retail availability of EAMR (energy-assisted magnetic recording) HDDs, and the other was additional information on the EAMR technology itself. In 2019, WD had announced the sampling of EAMR-based Ultrastar DC datacenter HDDs with 18TB and 20TB capacities. Yesterday's announcements build upon those products - the WD Gold-branded version of the Ultrastar DC CMR drives is now available for retail purchase, and the Ultrastar drives themselves have moved to general availability. The Ultrastar JBOD and storage server product lines have also been updated to utilize these new high-capacity drives.

Flash-based storage devices have taken over traditional consumer hard-drive application areas. However, increasing data storage requirements mean that HDDs still continue to be the most cost-effective solution for bulk storage. HDD vendors have been working on increasing hard drive capacities using multiple techniques. Around 10 years back, we had 2TB 3.5" HDDs with five PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording) platters in an air-filled enclosure. These drives were CMR (conventional magnetic recording) drives. In the last decade, we have seen advancements in three different categories that have enabled a 10-fold increase in the capacity of HDDs while retaining the same physical footprint:

Increasing the number of platters / making the platters thinner has been made possible by using sealed helium-filled enclosures. The reduced turbulence enables platters to be stacked closer to each other. The first-generation helium HDDs had 7 platters, and this has now grown to 9 platters for the new high-capacity drives.

The size of the writing head and the flexibility with which it can be manipulated dictate the minimum width of the recording tracks on the platters. Western Digital is claiming that they are the first to use a triple-stage actuator (TSA) in shipping HDDs.

The Triple-Stage Actuator (Picture courtesy: Western Digital)

The enhanced precision with TSA allows the TPI factor to go up. Incidentally, Seagate also has a novel actuator scheme (dual actuator), though that is aimed at increasing the throughput / IOPS.

One of the key challenges faced in the quest to increase the areal density of platters is the ability of the writing head to reliably alter the magnetic state of the grains in the tracks. Both heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) are techniques that address this issue. In 2017, WD seemed set to go all-in on MAMR for their HDD product line, but three years down the road, we are looking at a variant that WD claims is a product of their HAMR and MAMR research - EAMR (energy-assisted magnetic recording).

While details were scant when EAMR was announced , WD is finally opening up on some of the technical aspects.

Energy-Assisted PMR (ePMR) (Pictre courtesy: Western Digital)

WD's first-generation EAMR technology (christened as ePMR) involves the application of electrical current to the writing head's main pole (this is in addition to the current sent through the voice coil) during write operations. The additional magnetic field created by this bias current ensures that the bits on the track alter their state in a more deterministic manner. In turn, this allows the bits to be packed closer together and increasing the areal density.

The above techniques can also be used with shingled magnetic recording (SMR) to boost areal density further. SMR has been around in both host-managed and drive-managed versions for a few years now. WD indicated in yesterday's announcement that qualification shipments of their 20TB Ultrastar DC host-managed SMR drive are in progress.

Western Digital's Gold Series - Enterprise-Class Hard Disk Drives Family Specifications

The WD Gold 18TB is available for purchase today and will set you back by $593. The 16TB version is priced at $528, but is currently out of stock. As is typical for enterprise drives, the two new models each have a MTBF of 2.5M hours, workload rating of 550TB/yr, and a 5 year warranty.

Source: Western Digital



View All Comments

  • MrSpadge - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Care to educate us on the truth? Reply
  • prisonerX - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Yes clearly experts are the problem, not addled and ignorant anonymous posters in internet forums bearing conspiracy theories. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Hi Brane2,

    With apologies, your comment is a bit nebulous, so I'm not quite sure how to parse it. Just so that I'm clear, what exactly are you saying that we got wrong/incorrect?

    While we have science & engineering backgrounds, we don't live and breathe HDD technology like full-on HDD engineers do. So although we aim to get things correct, we're definitely not infallible. In this specific case, we are not aware of any issues with the technology presented by WD or their claims. But if there is something wrong, then please let us know so that we can correct it in this article and ensure it remains correct going forward.

    Ryan Smith
  • sheh - Friday, July 10, 2020 - link

    His comment is nebulous more than a bit. Not worth your reply time. Reply
  • MrVibrato - Saturday, July 11, 2020 - link

    His comment is not just nebulous, it is nothing less than a Schroedingers comment. A comment that is in a superposition of saying everything and nothing at once. I mean, come on, who would be so cruel to put a comment together with a bottle of poisonous gas in a sealed dark box? Comment abuse is what it is... Reply
  • npz - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    best deal so far is the Seagate Exos 16TB currently for $382

    also Enterprise and I've had pretty good luck with them, more so than their desktop class drives at least. So it makes me wonder why couldn't WD just use conventional PMR and the same stuff as HGST, but rebranded, instead of this EAMR without an increase in density for a much higher price for their starter model?
  • nicolaim - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Crazy price difference between that and the new WD! Reply
  • Deicidium369 - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Newegg also has those drives for ~$380. Found the WD181KRYZ for $592.99 (https://www.newegg.com/gold-wd181kryz-18tb/p/N82E1... $220 for ~2TB may make sense for some places like BackBlaze or hyperscalers - but not for me.

    Bought 100 of the Seagate 16TB Exos to fill a 90 drive top loader from Supermicro. 1 DOA, 3 died within the burn in (24 hours). replaced and put in spares pile. Array has been online for close to 5 months now - and no issues - no additional drive deaths.

    Just can't trust WD after the experience I had with their 12TB drives - out of 30 deployed, 10 dead within a week. Replaced with Seagate 12TB and other than 1 dead within a week - zero issues for well over a year now.
  • eastcoast_pete - Thursday, July 9, 2020 - link

    Which 12 TB WD model was that? Asking so I don't buy some by accident. Thanks! Reply
  • npz - Friday, July 10, 2020 - link

    Yeah I find WD brand reputation to be vasly overrated. Seagate used to be very bad, but has improved significantly. HGST I haven't had any experience since being taken over by WD, but their pre-WD drives were very good Reply

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