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


Warminster, Pa.


Ampex Data Systems
Redwood City, Calif.

BiTMICRO Networks
Fremont, Calif.

Cepoint Networks
Nashua, N.H.

Conduant Corp.
Longmont, Colo.

CRU DataPort
Vancouver, Wash.

Crystal Group
Hiawatha, Iowa

Cyberchron Rugged Systems
Cold Spring, N.Y.

Dolphin Interconnect Solutions
Marlborough, Mass.

EMC Corp.
Hopkinton, Mass.

Formation Inc.
Moorestown, N.J.

General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems

InPhase Technologies
Longmont, Colo.

Mountain Optech
Longmont, Colo.

PFU Systems
Santa Clara, Calif.

Phoenix International
Orange, Calif.

Red Rock Technologies
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Seakr Engineering Inc.
Centennial, Colo.

Signatec Inc.
Newport Beach, Calif.

Santa Ana, Calif.

Sypris Data Systems
San Dimas, Calif.

Technology Advancement Group (TAG) Inc.
Dulles, Va.

L3 Communications Targa Systems Division

Vanguard Rugged Storage
Boulder, Colo.

Z Microsystems Inc.
San Diego

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

XPand6020 | Small Form Factor (SFF) System Featuring XPedite5205 Running Cisco IOS® and XPedite7450

The XPand6020 is a Small Form Factor (SFF) system that features an XPedite5205, which runs Cisco ...

XCalibur1603 | Freescale QorIQ Eight-Core P4080 Processor-Based Air-Cooled 6U cPCI SBC

The XCalibur1603 is a high-performance, 6U cPCI, single board computer supporting Freescale QorIQ...

XPedite7530 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U CompactPCI Module

The XPedite7530 is a high-performance 3U CompactPCI single board computer that is ideal for rugge...

XChange3012 | 3U VPX PCIe and Gigabit Ethernet Integrated Switch with XMC and Management Support

The XChange3012 is a conduction- or air-cooled 3U VPX module that provides both PCI Express and E...

XPm2020 | 3U VPX Power Supply with Integrated MIL-STD-461E Filtering

The XPm2020 is a VITA 62-compliant 3U VPX power supply that takes in a MIL-STD-704 28 VDC input v...

XPand4206 | Rugged Intel® Core™ i7-Based Multiprocessor COTS System with 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fabric

The XPand4206 is a high-performance computing and networking platform for environmentally demandi...

XChange4002 | Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U VME PMC Carrier Card

The XChange4002 is a versatile conduction- or air-cooled 6U VME64x dual-PMC carrier card. With PC...

XCalibur4540 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur4540 is a high-performance, 6U OpenVPX™, multiprocessing, single board computer that ...

XChange1200 | 3U cPCI Air-Cooled PMC/XMC Carrier Card for System or Peripheral Slot

The XChange1200 is a 3U cPCI module supporting a single-width XMC/PrPMC card. The XChange1200 pro...

XPm2120 | MIL-STD-704 3U VPX VITA 62.0 Power Supply with Integrated MIL-STD-461E Filtering

The XPm2120 is a VITA 62.0-compliant 3U VPX power supply that allocates 12 V as the primary distr...

Related Companies


Provides customized Printed Circuit Board fabrication in California. The entire process can be customized according t...

Velmex Inc

Manufactures linear and rotary motion-control positioning equipment for scientific, research, photonics, machining an...

TASC Technical & Assembly Services Corporation Electronic Equipment Manufacturing

Electronic Manufacturing sub-contractor. Circuit Board assembly, Cable Assembly, Wire Harness Assembly, Box Build Ass...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...


Offers complete solutions for embedded software developers with a focus on mission- and safety-critical applications....

Dataforth Corp

Manufactures high-quality, signal conditioning, and data communications products for industrial markets. Products inc...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

Harris Corporation

Harris provides advanced, technology-based solutions that solve government and commercial customers' mission critical...

Crane Aerospace & Electronics

When failure is NOT an option...rely on Crane Aerospace & Electronics. We supply high-density, high-reliability c...

Aerospace Optics Inc

Aerospace Optics has long been recognized as an innovator in the aerospace industry. The company's VIVISUN line of ru...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has received a contract from Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to supply its small form factor ...

Innovative Integration Announces the FMC-Servo

Camarillo, CA June 19, 2015, Innovative Integration, a trusted supplier of signal processing and data acquisition hardware and software solutions, today announced the FMC-S...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has further enhanced its innovative VRD1 high definition (HD) video management system (VMS) w...


Harsh Environment Protection for Advanced Electronics and Components

This webinar will offer an opportunity to learn more about ultra-thin Parylene conformal coatings – how they are applied, applications they protect today, and the properties and benefits they offer, includin...

New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

June 2015
Volume 26, Issue 6

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

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

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles