Military hard drive manufacturers balance the benefits of spinning-media and solid-state data storage

By John Keller

There was a time not long ago when military hard drive manufacturers believed the military data storage industry was moving exclusively to solid-state data storage. Traditional military hard drives made from spinning magnetic media were thought to be too delicate for punishing military systems in the field, where extremes in shock, vibration, temperature, and other harsh-environment operating conditions are the norm.

Military hard disk makers these days, however, have a whole new outlook. Spinning-media hard drives are no longer the shrinking violets they once were, and today are appropriate for the vast majority of military applications, even in milspec environments. Their primary advantages are low cost and high data capacity compared to solid state data storage. Reliability often is not an issue.

Today's spinning-media hard disks "are certainly more rugged" then they used to be, points out Amos Deacon III, president of military data storage specialist Phoenix International in Orange Calif. "The error correction capabilities of the drives have increased, and technically I have seen the published specifications of 3.5-inch devices go from a spec of eight or 10 Gs to 40 Gs in an operational environment; the same with vibration. Now you can throw those things against the wall, and they'll still work."

The increase in ruggedness of military hard drives comes from the reduction in mass of the head assemblies and in the data storage media itself, Deacon explains. Not only are standard-sized hard disks becoming more rugged, but so also are their 2.5-inch notebook computer drives, which add to the size, weight, and power (SWAP) advantages of spinning-media hard disks.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of spinning-media disks is their cost relative to solid-state storage. Take a 600-gigabyte data storage system, Deacon says. A conventional spinning-media hard disk costs perhaps less than $1,000. Ruggedize and seal that same hard disk and the cost goes up to about $2,500. Yet use solid-state memory for 600-gigabyte drive and the cost can go to more than $10,000, Deacon says.

Military hard drive manufacturers also are becoming much more innovative in packaging than they once were, points out Vladymir Rogov, vice president and director of marketing and design at military data storage maker Z Microsystems Inc. in La Jolla, Calif.

Often it is the need for spinning-media hard disks to operate at high altitudes aboard aircraft as part of military avionics systems that drives manufacturers to hermetically seal their disks.

The reason for this is how a spinning-media disk works. The read-write heads essentially travel over the disks on a cushion of air. At altitudes higher than about 10,000 feet, the air cushions get thin and the disks can cease to function. Seal in the air, however, and the hard disks can function to altitudes as high as 30,000 feet in unpressurized areas.

"We had to hermetically seal our hard drives to go at very high altitudes," Rogov explains. When they did that, his engineers opened many opportunities for aircraft applications where high capacities are necessary.

"With the increase in storing imagery, very high capacities are required," Rogov says. Z Micro offers a hermetically sealed, ruggedized raid hard disk system with four removable, hot-swap "brick" modules -- each module with six terabytes of hard disk storage. The system is 7.1/4 inches high and fits in a standard electronics rack. "This is 24 terabytes in a 19-inch rack; that is a big deal," Rogov says.

For the most environmentally demanding applications, such as the intense vibration of a helicopter, solid-state hard drives often are the only alternative, Deacon and Rogov agree. Extremes in heat and cold also can rule out spinning-mass drives.

"Solid-state device buys you is significantly higher environmental specifications beyond shock and vibration," Deacon says. "In a rugged or deployed environment, rotating devices have problems with temperature; you can't go below 5 degrees Celsius or the hard drive will not spin up. With hot temperatures it is not so much the mechanical operation, but the cooling of the devices that run the hard drives that is important. The high end is about 55 Celsius. It won't burn up the drive, but it will significantly reduce their MTBF [mean times between failures]."

Many industry experts still believe that solid-state memory eventually will become the dominant storage media for rugged hard disks, but that time is in the future. "If only there were equal price and equal capacity," Rogov says. "Solid state is the future. It is very cost-driven, but it will go there one day."

Company information

ACT/Technico

Warminster, Pa.
www.acttechnico.com

Adtron
Phoenix
www.adtron.com

Ampex Data Systems
Redwood City, Calif.
www.ampexdata.com

BiTMICRO Networks
Fremont, Calif.
www.bitmicro.com

Cepoint Networks
Nashua, N.H.
www.cepoint.com

Conduant Corp.
Longmont, Colo.
www.conduant.com

CRU DataPort
Vancouver, Wash.
www.cru-dataport.com

Crystal Group
Hiawatha, Iowa
www.crystalpc.com

Cyberchron Rugged Systems
Cold Spring, N.Y.
www.cyberchron.com

Dolphin Interconnect Solutions
Marlborough, Mass.
www.dolphinics.com

EMC Corp.
Hopkinton, Mass.
www.emc.com

Formation Inc.
Moorestown, N.J.
www.formation.com

General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems
Washington
www.gd-ais.com

InPhase Technologies
Longmont, Colo.
www.inphase-technologies.com

Mountain Optech
Longmont, Colo.
www.mt-optech.com

PFU Systems
Santa Clara, Calif.
www.pfusystems.com

Phoenix International
Orange, Calif.
www.phenxint.com

Red Rock Technologies
Scottsdale, Ariz.
www.redrocktech.com

Seakr Engineering Inc.
Centennial, Colo.
www.seakr.com

Signatec Inc.
Newport Beach, Calif.
www.signatec.com

STEC Inc.
Santa Ana, Calif.
www.stec-inc.com

Sypris Data Systems
San Dimas, Calif.
www.datatape.com

Technology Advancement Group (TAG) Inc.
Dulles, Va.
www.tag.com

L3 Communications Targa Systems Division
Ottawa
www.targasystems.com

Vanguard Rugged Storage
Boulder, Colo.
www.vanguard-rugged.com

Z Microsystems Inc.
San Diego
www.zmicro.com


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.


The Innovation That Matters™ Quiz

Innovation is one of the key drivers in the Defense industry. View this short video of Leon Woo, VP of Engineering at Mercury Systems, on the role of innovation. Then, answer 3 simple questions correctly to be entered into a drawing to win an Eddie Bauer fleece jacket!

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR TWO MOST RECENT WINNERS. "Nick from SPARWAR" and "Bridget from AOC."


Military & Aerospace Photos

Related Products

API DC Link Power Film Capacitors

High reliability DC link capacitors for power inverter applications which require superior life e...

VPX3-453 3U VPX Virtex-6/8640D Digital Signal Processor

The Curtiss-Wright VPX3-453 is a high performance 3U VPX DSP and FPGA processor card that combine...

PC/104 SBC and Peripherals

Kontron PC/104 Standalone Single Board Computers (SBCs) serve in every format, even with consiste...

Related Companies

API Technologies Corp

Who We Are API Technologies is a dominant technology provider of RF/microwave, microelectronics, and security technol...

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...

Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions (CWCDS) is a long establish...
Wire News provided by   

Most Popular Articles

Webcasts

Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Digital signal processing for signals intelligence and electronic warfare

Military & Aerospace Electronics presents an expert Webcast on the design considerations for blending general-purposes processors (GPUs), general-purpose graphics processors (GPGPUs), field-programmable ...
Sponsored by:

Advantages of Intel Architecture Products and Wind River Solutions in Military & Aerospace Applications

This webinar explains the individual advantages of the Intel Architecture hardware, available for long-life supply, and the WRS software portfolio.  There are extraordinary advantages of combining such ...
Sponsored by:

social activity

All Access Sponsors


Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
file

Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Follow Us On...



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE