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WD, HGST expect helium-filled HDDs to get more popular this year

HGST, a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Digital, first announced its helium-filled hard disk drives in 2013 and started their shipments in 2014. Such drives have a number of advantages compared to traditional HDDs, but they still have not gained popularity because both WD and Seagate produce hard drives with comparable capacity that are not sealed. However, this year a lot may change.

At present HGST offers Ultrastar He hard drives with 6TB and 8TB capacities for applications that require maximum storage density and relatively high performance. Such HDDs compete with HGST’s Ultrastar 6TB hard drives, WD’s Ae 6.3TB HDDs as well as Seagate’s Enterprise Capacity, Enterprise NAS and Archive hard disk products with 5TB – 8TB capacities. While the Ultrastar He products have some advantages compared to rival products, they are still not radically better than competitors, which is a reason of their relatively low popularity.

In the coming months HGST plans to release 10TB UltraStar HelioSeal hard drive that will offer a massive capacity advantage over all existing solutions. The drive is based on seven 1.43TB SMR [shingled magnetic recording] platters and is filed with helium. While Seagate also plans to introduce its 10TB HDD this year (based on six 1.66TB SMR platters), the company will likely do that only in late 2015, which means that the Ultrastar He 10TB will have a significant time-to-market advantage. The release of the 10TB helium-filled drive as well as the ramp of 8TB product will help the drives to gain market share because so far the adoption of such HDDs has been slow.

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“Helium, as an individual category, particularly as it relates to 6TB drive, probably did not have a material impact [on our business],” said Steve Milligan, chief executive officer and president of Western Digital, during a recent conference call with investors and financial analysts. “We believe that as we transition to the 8TB platform with the helium product, we will begin to see a bit of a larger impact.”

Mike Cordano, the president of HGST, also believes that the use of helium-filled hard drives will increase this year. In an interview with DigiTimes he predicted “a large increase in the use of helium-filled hard disk drives” in data centers in 2015.

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KitGuru Says: The HGST HelioSeal platform will have to offer a clear and consistent advantage in terms of capacity over competing HDDs from all manufacturers to stay relevant. It remains to be seen how the HelioSeal platform will work with heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and other upcoming HDD technologies. To keep its HelioSeal ahead of competitors, HGST will have to combine it with all the latest recording methods, which is not an easy thing to do.

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