Everyone is storing data in the cloud whether they know it or not. If you use Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn or any other web based site that stores digital content, you have entrusted your important information to the cloud. Companies outsource much of their business-critical data infrastructure to the cloud. Cloud services offer companies the opportunity to save on capital purchases of servers and the associated operating and personnel costs. Cloud services also allow companies to scale quickly when additional capacity or bandwidth is needed, by simply purchasing additional cloud resources.
Companies and individuals do all of this storage with the underlying assumption that the cloud is a stable and reliable infrastructure. However, an unstable cloud storage system sometimes does occur. Consider recent outages and service interruptions with Amazon and Flickr and the resulting impact to both the providers and their users. Cloud service providers need to build their infrastructure to support guaranteed levels of uptime. At a fundamental level, service reliability begins with the reliability of individual components, including hard disk drives (HDD). Beyond capacity and performance, reliability is fundamental in maintaining the expectations required by the individuals and/or companies entrusting the cloud with their data. Individuals expect that they will simply get the data they asked for—whether it’s a downloadable movie or a key e-mail—without fail.
For hard disk drives, the rigors of the cloud environment require HDDs to support client requests 100% of the time. Again, at the consumer/user level, this is taken for granted; in terms of HDD performance, achieving a duty cycle of 100% is anything but trivial. A duty cycle of 100%, means the HDD can read or write 100% of the time and have no adverse things happening at the HDD level. This requires that HDDs in the cloud have enormously in-depth firmware programming to manage error correction, while maintaining a specified performance level. Firmware is an aspect of HDDs that is often overlooked; at Toshiba, we spend an awful lot of time to get it right. This performance level helps users get the data they are requesting, when they request it.
With the cloud in mind, redundancy is essential. High capacity SAS HDDs targeted at cloud applications also need to offer dual port functionality. This is a feature of redundancy whereby if one port goes down, the second port acts as a backup for the data to pass through. Think of this as a ‘back-up system’ which each HDD has at its disposal.
For cloud vendors requiring very high performance—where data streams are at the top of the speed charts-- enterprise class solid state drives (eSSD), using flash memory instead of disks, are filling that need. Flash memory is a well-established storage technology for consumer devices, but is increasingly seen as a high-performance solution for cloud and enterprise computing, particularly now that the duty cycles of flash are able to meet the requirements of cloud-based computing. Toshiba invented NAND flash memory and we’re working to push the limits of performance and reliability every day. These eSSDs can work with any I/O pattern (read or writes) continuously for 5 years, 24 hours a day. Of course, you can mix and match these HDD/eSSD solutions based on requirements, preferences, and/or workloads.
Against this backdrop of continuous use, the actual components of the HDD also contribute to the reliability of the product. Very careful consideration is given to what motor, fluid dynamic bearings, actuators, and media are designed into the HDD to stand up to the heat and vibration generated through continuous use in a cloud setting. . These are just some of the pieces that can help contribute to the HDD’s long life while helping to contribute to a lower total cost of ownership, which is no small consideration for a cloud service provider that may be utilizing thousands of drives.
Even as the cloud expands what it can offer, storage requirements continue to grow and these challenges are expected to maintain with each new HDD and SSD generation. Content creation continues to increase with no signs of slowing down—giving us a challenge too. HDDs and eSSDs continue push their performance, capacity and reliability capabilities. It’s a challenge that we’re excited to take on—the opportunity to innovate and provide our partners and customers with the best-in-class cloud storage solutions drives us each and every day.