​Reliability: Understanding the critical factors behind disk storage

Consumers and businesses are increasingly leaning towards hybrid strategies: cloud-based and direct storage

The need for more storage across every market segment is overwhelming. Source: Herman Turnip (Flickr)

The need for more storage across every market segment is overwhelming. Source: Herman Turnip (Flickr)

In the tech world it can be easy to focus on spec sheets but in reality a tech spec sheet will never tell you the full story about whether a product will meet your needs or miss the mark. This is particularly true when it comes to making decisions about your storage requirements where reliability is king.

From streaming cell phone video to machine-to-machine Internet of Things (IoT) data streams, the need for more storage across every market segment is overwhelming. Consumers are increasingly leaning toward hybrid strategies, employing both cloud-based storage services as well as more quickly restored direct- and network-attached storage solutions.

Businesses have even more diverse needs. Some data must be secured. An increasing amount must be made available to fast, real-time analysis. And with every passing month, ever more data must find its way into affordable long-term storage that can still make any file available to users within seconds.

Against this backdrop of broad applications and skyrocketing capacity needs, we have a complete spectrum of storage environments. Consider all of the places in which people deploy hard drives: laptops, surveillance appliances, kiosks, hot data centres, Arctic research outposts, airplanes, cars, small business storage closets, and large-scale university research clusters. Data lives everywhere. In turn, the storage market must meet data where it lives, not only where it’s convenient. The digital universe is far, far bigger than PCs and server racks.

Additionally, within each environment, different systems will face different workloads. Will storage be subject to a heavy, random workload or a light, sequential one? Will that use occur only sporadically during the workweek or constantly around the clock, year in and year out?

This diversity leads to two inescapable demands. First, like a fine suit to a body, storage must be tailored and tweaked if it’s going to deliver the desired results. One design does not fit all and a spec sheet won’t always tell you the full story. Secondly, storage must be reliable. This is the most important reality of all storage, because if you don’t have reliability, everything else, from uptime to data protection to total, long-term solution cost, falls apart.

That is why Seagate recently began offering annualized failure rate (AFR specs) on some drives in addition to conventional mean-time between failure (MTBF) ratings. Annualized numbers are key when discussing reliability. Because MTBF numbers can vary depending on how manufacturers test, AFR is increasingly used as a measurement of drive reliability. In turn, AFR dovetails with workload duty cycle and ultimately yields a drive’s workload rate limit (WRL), meaning the number of terabytes a drive can be expected to read and write over both its lifespan and on an annual basis.

A Seagate desktop drive, for example, offers a WRL of 55 TB/year while an enterprise-grade nearline drive boasts 550 TB/year. Given that enterprises are storing 85 percent of the digital universe, it makes sense that they should reliably accommodate 10X more data traffic.

That’s why companies like our take such herculean measures involving thousands of steps and countless hours to design and test our drives to deliver consistent quality over time.

In a sense reliability is the driving force behind all hard drive market segmentation, so when you’re next making a decision about your storage requirements don’t just rely on the numbers on a drive spec sheet. Make sure you look for a truly reliable storage solution by digging deeper to learn the whole story.

Goodbye, optical; hello, hard drive. This IDC graph of the number of installed bytes by media type clearly shows that the world’s craving for high capacity digital storage dominates storage adoption.

Sandy Sun is vice president and general manager of Sales, Asia-Pacific and China, Seagate Technology

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