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Western Digital Introduce OptiNAND Hard Drives

The humble 3.5″ hard drive always seemed like it was one step away from being relegated to history. However, in recent years, new innovative technologies have given it an incredible boost in popularity. Of course, while they may not be the focus for high-end gaming PCs these days, thanks to faster M.2 SSDs. However, for mass storage, they’re perfect for NAS, servers, surveillance hardware and much more.

OptiNAND

At the company’s HDD Reimagine event, Western Digital Corp introduced their new flash-enhanced drive architecture, which they say “breaks traditional boundaries of storage”. The new drives use an HDD combined with an embedded iNAND flash drive. Leveraging industry-first technologies including triple-stage actuator (TSA) and HelioSeal technology, they can now reach a staggering 2.2 TB per platter. Western Digital has shipped samples of new nine-disk, 20 TB ePMR flash-enhanced drives with OptiNAND technology to select customers.

20TB HDD drives with greater performance and that same form factor is mighty impressive. However, Western Digital say they expect this technology to be their primary configuration for years to come. They’re even pushing to get past 50TB models in the “second half of the decade” and I fully expect they’ll manage it too.

“Western Digital has a history of hard drive architecture innovations, such as when HGST (now part of Western Digital) first hermetically sealed and shipped helium HDDs in 2013,” said Ed Burns, research director for hard disk drives at IDC. “Driven by the growth of AI, ML, blockchain, IoT, sensors and more, there’s no doubt that new storage innovations are needed to store and protect today’s data growth, especially at scale. As the only company manufacturing both flash and HDDs, Western Digital can uniquely leverage their in-house capabilities to extend the areal density curve of ePMR drives for generations to come, helping customers meet the growing demands of a digital economy.”

“This new architecture is a natural extension of Western Digital’s strengths and capabilities, delivering a new evolution of storage to the market,” said Billy Chen, vice president of New H3C Group, president of Compute and Storage Product Line. “As an early customer, the OptiNAND technology is exciting as it will help us meet our storage needs for years to come.”

New Flash-Enhanced Drive with OptiNAND Technology

Unlike a hybrid drive where flash is used to store user data, the new architecture is a breakthrough in storage that works differently, enabling advances on multiple dimensions of storage capability. By adding vertically integrated iNAND to its world-class HDDs, and with enhanced firmware algorithm and SoC innovations, Western Digital’s flash-enhanced drives with OptiNAND technology deliver improved capacity, performance and reliability to help customers meet growing storage demands. A technology brief can be found here. Highlights include:

  • Capacity: The drive works smarter, with enhanced firmware algorithms taking advantage of expanded metadata that has been offloaded to the iNAND, enabling more tracks per inch (TPI) with resulting increased areal density.
  • Performance: Drive latency is improved with proprietary optimizations to drive firmware focused on requiring fewer adjacent track interference (ATI) refreshes and reducing the need for write cache flushes in write cache-enabled mode.
  • Reliability: Nearly 50x more customer data can be retained in the event of an emergency power off (EPO) scenario, and with Western Digital’s unique capabilities in vertically integrated supply, design, development, testing and qualification of flash-enhanced drives, customers can count on the drive’s reliability.

“With our IP and world-class development teams in HDD and flash, we are able to continuously push the boundaries of innovation to improve our customers’ storage infrastructure,” said Siva Sivaram, president of Global Technology and Strategy, Western Digital. “We have had an extraordinary journey of HDD innovation. We changed everything with HelioSeal in 2013; were first to ship energy-assisted HDDs in volume in 2019; and now we’re going to lead again with OptiNAND technology. This architecture will underpin our HDD technology roadmap for multiple generations as we expect that an ePMR HDD with OptiNAND will reach 50TB1 in the second half of the decade.”

Availability

The new flash-enhanced drive architecture with OptiNAND technology will be available across the company’s portfolio of drives and storage platforms. It will also serve as the foundation for future designs and innovations, with further advances to come in intelligence, reliability, capacity and time-to-market value. The company will begin announcing market-specific, purpose-built products across its portfolio later this year.

Peter Donnell

As a child still in my 30's (but not for long), I spend my day combining my love of music and movies with a life-long passion for gaming, from arcade classics and retro consoles to the latest high-end PC and console games. So it's no wonder I write about tech and test the latest hardware while I enjoy my hobbies!

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