Hard drives go hybrid

The release of Windows Vista is bringing a new reality to hard drive manufacturers.

Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate Technology, Toshiba and Western Digital have come together to form the Hybrid Storage Alliance.

The group’s main goal is to foster the growth of flash memory and extend the capabilities of the notebook with hybrid hard drive technology, which can make these machines run faster, last longer, and run longer on one battery charge.

Windows Vista, which was just released to the public yesterday, is the first operating system designed to take full advantage of hybrid hard drives.

Bill Mitchell, Microsoft’s corporate vice- president of mobile and tailored platform division, said hybrid drives leverage Windows ReadyDrive features in Vista allowing mobile PC users to boot up and resume from hibernation faster.

Joni Clark, the chairman of the new Hybrid Alliance, said that hybrids hard drive would be able to work with other operating systems, but without the benefits such as memory and battery improvement.

Another goal of the group is to drive adoption. “We want to educate and promote hybrid technology and drive the adoption rate. We want to be a common voice and not have vendors toting different numbers and specs,” Clark said, who is also a product marketing manager at Seagate.

The alliance will not write any specifications or standards and there will also be no interoperability testing, he said.

According to Kelly O’Sullivan, Hitachi’s manager for strategic alliances, there are three main benefits to hybrid hard drives: power system, response time and durability.

The Vista operating system has been built to react to the hybrid hard drive faster. This also extends battery life and the flash acts as a read and write so that all data is cached onto the flash portion of the drive. From there it is spun down and when it’s full it spins up to 256Mb, O’Sullivan said.

“The Vista superflash OS takes the most frequently used files and the OS brings the app onto the flash and it sits there for quick response. That is where the 50 per cent improvement comes from. It does not get off the drive,” O’ Sullivan added.

Both O’Sullivan and Clark believe that Vista will accelerate the adoption of hybrid hard drives.

IDC market research forecasts that hybrid hard disk drives will constitute 35 per cent of all hard disk drives shipped with portable PCs by 2010.

 “The idea of flash is not new . . . and the hard drive vendors are also going to be driving it. We hope it can grow into other areas such as consumer electronics,” O’Sullivan said.

For the channel, Clark advises that resellers should first understand how to implement the maximum benefits of Vista. “Vista will turn on the right features and you do not have to do anything else for integration. Once the flash is in it starts to run out of juice over the next 10 years. At the end of the day, you will still have a perfectly good hard drive,” Clark said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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