Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST), a Western Digital company, is putting helium into its hard disk drives (HDDs) to boost their capacity. 

The storage vendor, founded in 2003 as a merger of the HDD businesses of IBM and Hitachi, started substituting fresh air for helium in its HDDs last September and today it claims to have created the world's first 6TB HDD with the help of the super-light gas.

HGST said its new 6TB Ultrastar He6 HDD harnesses the gas-based technology to deliver 50 percent more storage space compared to an air-filled 4TB HDD. 

The San Jose-headquartered company points out that there are several other benefits to be gained by allowing the disks to rotate in helium, the world's second lightest element, as opposed to air. 

For example, using helium, which is one seventh the density of air, means that drag (and therefore friction) are reduced, making the HDD quieter, cooler and less power hungry than an air-filled 4TB HDD. 

HGST quotes a drop of 4-5°C and a reduction of nearly 50 percent in watts per TB with the help of a lower powered motor.

Customers said to be trialling HGST's new product include Netflix, Huawei Unified Storage, CERN, Green Revolution Cooling and Code42, as well as social media and search companies.

A 4TB HDD typically costs around £130 but the Ultrastar He6 is likely to be more expensive initially because it has no competition in the market place.

Despite this, HGST claims that, in the long run, helium-filled products will ultimately save money for data centre managers on cloud storage, massive scale-out environments, disk-to-disk backup, and replicated or RAID (redundant array of independent disk) environments.

HGST vice president of product marketing, Brendan Collins, said the helium platform will serve as the future building block for the company's new products and technologies. Such technologies to be based on helium include shingled magnetic recording (SMR) and heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR). The helium platform will also serve as the future building block for new, growing market segments such as cold storage, a space that HGST plans to address over the next couple of years.

IDC research vice president, John Rydning, said: "HGST's proprietary, new, hermetically sealed, helium-filled HDD solution – the industry's first helium filled platform that simultaneously increases capacity while lowering power consumption and operating temperature – is intersecting the market at a time when IT managers are seeking out capacious and energy efficient new disk drives that will help to reduce the total cost of ownership of enterprise storage systems."

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