Why Spinning Disks Haven’t Spun Their Last Spin

Park Place Technologies


Parker July 01, 2022

As a trusted technology since 1956, spinning disk hard drives have arguably been the most popular method of data storage for generations. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are not only reliable, but are much cheaper per gigabyte of storage than modern flash-powered solid state drives (SSD); in fact, HDD storage can run as low as 3 cents per gigabyte. So, what’s all the fuss about SSDs? 

Despite the rise in all-flash and SSD storage, there exists modern HDD use cases that are still very much present — especially in a disaster-prone world. Let’s take a closer look at why spinning disks aren’t obsolete just yet: 

Spinning Disks Explained 

A spinning disk is the mechanism within a hard disk drive to which memory is written. Featuring rotating plates attached to an arm that writes the data, the spinning disk mechanism physically resembles a record player. 

The name ‘spinning disk’ comes from the magnetized platter(s) which spin around a central axis at 5400 to 7200 revolutions per minute. Information is written to and read from the drive by changing the magnetic fields on these spinning platters with a read/write armature. Hence, the term “spin-up” refers to accelerating a hard disk drive’s platters from a stopped state to an operational speed. 

Still Life Left in Spinning Disks? 

There’s no denying that spinning hard drives have been rapidly substituted by the flashier, speedier, SSDs in recent years. But just as flash memory suppliers have driven down costs and bolstered capacity to meet rising customer demands, hard drive makers have too! 

Despite a fixed physical size and uniform form factor, constantly improving technology has allowed spinning disk manufacturers to increase capacity into the terabyte range. In fact, the largest HDD on the market today clocks in at a massive 18TB! Best of all, suppliers have managed to amplify capacity at a rate that still makes hard drives the biggest bang for your buck; one can purchase hard drives for less than $0.03 per gigabyte today.  

Hard Disk Drive (HDD) Use Cases 

Traditional HDDs may not have the speed or pizazz of flash storage, but there’s still a significant market for them. That’s because HDDs are the clear winner when it comes to backup, disaster recovery, cost per gigabyte, and storage capacity. Consider these modern HDD use cases: 

Analytics and Research 

For analytics and research, the trend to store more data for longer periods of time favors the greater capacity of HDDs. Businesses that want to get the greatest use from the data they capture and keep should note that the capacity and cost of HDDs outweighs the raw performance of SDDs. 

Archiving 

Archiving data is increasingly important to enterprises, for both compliance reasons and future analysis. On-site and off-site archives remain much cheaper on HDDs. And correctly configured HDDs can be just as durable as solid-state media, which also degrade over time through multiple read/writes. 

Backup 

Because flash storage is rarely cost-effective for backup, it’s increasingly common for businesses to back up flash media to lower-performance HDDs. An HDD-based NAS drive is an economical way to provide local office backups for servers and workstations, as well as staging off-site backups. 

Disaster Recovery 

Think about it – backups don’t have to be particularly fast; they just have to be reliable. HDDs can provide the perfect low-cost, high-capacity disaster recovery infrastructure your business needs. 

Energy-Assisted Technologies 

Thanks to some new developments, HDD technologies are becoming more competitive in the secondary storage market. Energy-assisted magnetic recording (EAMR) technologies have enabled vendors to increase HDD density and capacity without putting additional disks inside the hard drive. Most notably, microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) and heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) are getting a lot of attention in an evolving secondary storage market. 

Enterprise Applications 

Mainstream enterprise applications like CRM platforms and ERP software don’t really suffer from storage bottlenecks. Thus, they run well enough on current generations of SANs. Keep in mind that HDDs work well for applications that require sequential access, leaving flash storage best suited for advanced analytics, AI, high-performance computing, and in-memory databases. 

Local Storage 

In terms of local storage, there are two main factors that continue to support HDD use: cost and security. HDDs are almost always cheaper than cloud storage, and HDDs are still less expensive than SSDs. And while one could say that cloud providers are likely more secure than anything the typical SMB or enterprise client provides, you can’t argue that local HDD storage offers complete control and access to your data. 

Lower-Tier Storage to Support High-Performance Systems 

Even in demanding environments, only the most frequently used data is stored on flash; that’s because few high-performance systems use little enough data to work with flash alone. The rest must be tiered to HDD, cloud, or tape storage. 

While it’s true flash storage can offer dramatic performance improvements, it’s clear there are plenty of cases in which spinning disks can execute the same job at a fraction of the cost. And with modern HDD technologies making significant strides in capacity and speed, it’s not completely outlandish to claim that spinning disk drives may be making a comeback. 

If you’re in need of storage hardware maintenance, or comprehensive enterprise storage management services – Park Place Technologies can help. Get in touch with our team today to learn how we can alleviate the pains of ever-increasing IT demands. 

About the Author

Parker, Park Place Assistant