IBM, Seagate Focusing on Hard Drive Reliability

Vibration, friction caused by high speeds are sources of concern.

Hard drive capacity improvements routinely emerge from research laboratories, but with users saying there is enough capacity, the development focus is shifting to reliability.

Anti-vibration technology is the latest such effort from IBM. The companys Storage Technology Division, in San Jose, Calif., last week announced the Ultrastar 146Z10, a 146GB server drive that includes anti-vibration features. Vibration can corrupt data and loosen circuitry, power wires and rail mountings.

"Historically, whenever a new product came out, it was all about capacity ... the dollars per megabyte," said Currie Munce, advanced hard disk drive technology director for IBM.

The technology, which IBM calls Rotational Vibration Safeguard, measures the direction of vibration when multiple drives are in a single enclosure. It then compensates for the vibration by using servo technology to exert an opposite force.

IBM plans other drive advancements in the next year or so, including increasing an average drives rpm from 10,000 today up to 15,000 and using fluid instead of ball bearings to keep spinning media in alignment, Munce said.

Faster speeds could also mean problems with tribology—friction as materials interact with each other—and fluid lubrication leaks, Munce said.

Seagate Technology LLC is also researching ways of keeping head components together and protecting drives from shock. Nigel Macleod, senior vice president of advanced concepts at Seagate, said the Scotts Valley, Calif., company will roll out some of the technology in its products over the next two years. One of the disk problems Seagate is looking at is slapping, Macleod said. As disk speeds increase, the read/write head systems may actually deflect when they touch the media. When that happens, the individual parts of a head can lose their precise synchronization, resulting in corrupt data.

The materials used in E-blocks—the suspension systems that keep drive platters separate and properly aligned—are also a critical choice, Macleod said. The materials need to be strong and light and dissipate heat well, without being too exotic and pricey.

Drives for mobile and server uses also have to be designed for shock because they could be dropped by technicians whove removed them for swapping or maintenance, Macleod said.

David Dowless, an IT administrator at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases at the University of Georgia, is typical of most users. Dowless trusts his server and storage vendors to make smart component choices for him. And like most IT staffers, hes experienced failures. "The problems that Ive had seem to be completely random—suddenly a hard drive dies," said Dowless in Atlanta.

Dowless said that, given that his hard drives are large enough for his needs, where hed most like to see companies such as IBM and Seagate improve is in the speed of the drives.

Dave Reinsel, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., said reliability measures are a positive step, but given the number of problems, it will be difficult for any one vendor to address them all.

Related stories:

  • IBM to Update Storage Hardware
  • Hitachi to Buy IBMs Hard Drive Business