New Flex Dynamic Recording Method Redefines the Data Center Hard Drive

  • New Flex Dynamic Recording Method Redefines the Data Center Hard Drive

Seagate is leading the way in the development of a new dynamic recording method called Flex, to solve the evolving needs of hyperscale data centers. Flex will redefine the future of the data center hard drive. At the core, Flex vastly simplifies storage deployment and the storage supply chain, and enables data centers to more efficiently deploy and dynamically optimize installed storage to serve changing application requirements.

Flex enables a single hard drive to use multiple recording methods on the same drive media. For example, it will enable Dynamic Hybrid-SMR that blends SMR for higher capacity with CMR for higher performance, with optimized data locality, on a single drive. Then Flex lets the data center host configure how the data is stored on the drive’s media, dynamically tuning the drive’s data density to match the immediate needs of the entire data center system.

In a related development Google this week said it is sharing a proposal with the Open Compute Project (OCP) for Dynamic Hybrid Shingled Magnetic Recording (HSMR) HDD Product Requirements, with the aim of collaborating with hardware partners and customers to define a collection of Cloud hard drive features, behaviors and interfaces to adapt to exponentially growing storage needs in data centers.

“We are excited to see that Seagate has a technology solution for Dynamic Hybrid SMR on their 2019 roadmap,” said Eric Brewer, VP of Infrastructure at Google and an author of last year’s Disks for Datacenters white paper.

The development of Flex means that going forward, all media recording technologies can be tunable and optimizable, enabling our customers to balance the way storage is used to meet their own needs for performance, capacity and cost.

The move to Flex-enabled drives will also vastly simplify the supply chain for Seagate and for our partners. A customer can purchase a supply of drives based on its expected total capacity demand, and use the same drive for warm and cold storage. They can also use this same drive for any non-Flex-aware storage needs.

Hyperscale data center needs vary, and change over time

A Flex-enabled drive can serve multiple functions in a data center, according to the application needs of the customer. The data center can solve diverse needs — like capacity and performance — with a single hard drive model. The proportion of a drive’s media configured for performance or capacity can be changed at any time, even after it’s deployed in the field. And in host systems that are unaware of Flex, a drive will behave exactly like a traditional drive.

The benefits of Flex are substantial for our data center partners. Based on workloads, application sets, and existing build-out, each data center has its own specific needs, and those needs change over time. The Flex framework provides a new vision of how Hyperscale-architecture hard drives can be tuned and retuned, in-the-field, to serve disparate needs. It empowers IT architects to deploy a single hard drive design that’s flexible enough to serve the myriad roles required by cloud data centers. Now IT managers can optimize their entire collection of hard drives according to their need to store and access warm data (frequently read or changed), and cold data (less-frequently accessed, long-lived), in the most efficient possible way.

Flex will enable IT architects to optimize the total cost of ownership of their total collection of hard drive storage. The data center can choose to maximize performance for warm data everywhere that makes sense — achieving the most efficient balance of performance for warm data, without spending resources inefficiently on unused media. At the same time, the data center can minimize its costs for cold storage — tuning the media for increased capacity as needed.

Previously these choices were fixed and not changeable. The storage of warm versus cold data was segmented to a device-by-device selection, rather than determined via data locality and placement within a single hard drive.

Another key advance for recording efficiency

Flex provides the next step in the advance of media recording, enabling today’s and future media technologies to be deployed in the way customers deem most efficient — from today’s CMR and SMR media through HAMR, HIMR, HDMR and beyond — and the framework can be applied to SSD recording technologies as well.

As part of the Open Compute Project (OCP), Seagate will help develop a new API defining how hosts will leverage the power of Flex. Seagate has already developed new servo methods and test methods to enable the drive’s track density to change in the field. Extensions to the ATA and SCSI Zoned Block Device protocols have been proposed that will eventually go into the public domain and through the standardization process. This will enable broad market adoption, with plug-in compatibility.

To learn more about Flex, I encourage you to participate in the OCP Storage Working Group forum meetings. The schedule is posted on the OCP Wiki page. Seagate’s OCP storage leads Jun Liu and Mary Dunn are at these meetings and are happy to connect with partners after the call or when convenient. More documents from Seagate will be posted to the OCP storage wiki soon.


About the Author:

Jason Feist
Jason Feist is Seagate’s Director of Technology Strategy and Product Planning and is responsible for the company’s Data Center product roadmap. With 15 years of experience in hard drive engineering R&D, operations, and product line management, he’s worked in Head/Media Engineering management, as a product design lead, and as Asia regional product launch lead. Jason is an Open Compute Project (OCP) gold member.