Demand for data center storage capacity continues to grow at unprecedented rates and much of this ravenous appetite is driven by the need for ever more nearline storage. All key manufacturers are stepping up to the plate by releasing high-capacity, low-cost 18TB hard disk drives (HDDs) and in this review, we take a closer look at Toshiba’s new 18TB MG09 series.
We’ve already reviewed the respective 18TB Exos and UltraStar DC HC550 HDDs from Seagate and Western Digital (WD) and Toshiba now takes center stage. A headline feature of the MG09 series is this is the world’s first to employ an innovative new technology developed by Toshiba called FC-MAMR (flux control – microwave assisted magnetic recording).
The MG09 series targets a wide range of data center applications including cloud and hyperscale storage systems, Big Data analytics, distributed file systems, cloud archive and data recovery and centralised surveillance. On review we have Toshiba’s MG09ACA18TE SATA model with the MG09 series also offering a 12Gbits/sec SAS interface along with a choice of 512e (emulation) and 4Kn (native) sectors for both interface types.
MG09ACA18TE Hard disk features
Spinning at the standard 7,200rpm, the MG09 has the same nine platters as the 16TB MG08 models. Implementing FC-MAMR (more on that later) has allowed Toshiba to increase storage density to 2TB per platter.
As you’d expect, the MG09 drives are helium filled and Toshiba ensures they stay completely sealed by using the precision industrial welding technology originally developed by Toshiba Group for its lithium-ion batteries and other industrial applications. Using helium instead of air inside the drive decreases turbulence and buffeting allowing the actuator arms to be more precisely positioned as vibration and platter movement at high revolutions are significantly reduced.
Another benefit of the helium’s reduced drag is less power is required for the spindle motor. Toshiba claims the MG09 SATA drive consumes a maximum of 8.35W for random read and write operations and an average of 4.16W in active idle mode.
These are only marginally higher than the MG08 drives but a noteworthy point is the MG09’s idle consumption is over 1W less than Seagate’s Exos X18 (5.3W). It doesn’t sound much but to data centers with 1000s of drives, this could represent substantial savings in ongoing power consumption and running costs.
Vibration in multi-drive storage arrays and appliances running 24/7 operations can be a major issue as hard disks in close proximity to each other can accelerate hardware failures and errors. Toshiba’s Stable Platter Technology is designed to minimize vibration by stabilizing the motor shaft at both ends for improved tracking accuracy and maximum read and write performance.
The MG09 drives feature built-in rotational vibration (RV) sensors so multiple drives can operate reliably when mounted closely together in a storage array or appliance. The RV sensors allow them to compensate for rotational vibration that occurs within the drive or externally so they can safely maintain high read and write speeds.
Another valuable feature is Toshiba’s Persistent Write Cache (PWC) technology which is designed to protect data being written to the disk in the event of a power interruption or failure. The drive employs a flash-based cache to save the data which is written back when the power supply has been restored.
So what is FC-MAMR?
With conventional HDD technologies reaching their limits, manufacturers are having to come up with ever more innovative ways to squeeze more capacity into standard 3.5in. form factor drives. The two main ones are MAMR (microwave assisted magnetic recording) and HAMR (heat assisted magnetic recording), collectively grouped under the EAMR (energy assisted magnetic recording) heading.
Western Digital introduced its slightly mysterious ePMR (energy assisted perpendicular magnetic recording) in the 18TB UltraStar DC HC550 which allows BPI and aerial density to be increased by producing a more consistent write signal and significantly reduced jitter. Toshiba’s FC-MAMR (flux control – microwave assisted magnetic recording) achieves the same end result but does it differently.
Recording density can be increased by making the magnetic particles, or grains, on each platter smaller so more can be packed in although as density increases, they become more unstable. MAMR counters this with a miniscule microwave field generator, or spin torque oscillator (STO), fitted in the HDD’s write head.
This has the effect of causing the particles to wobble thus reducing the resistance of the recording media so it is easier to write to. A drawback of MAMR technology is it requires specially designed recording media which will inevitably bring in extra costs.
Without becoming boringly technical, a flux control device replaces the STO with two magnetic layers in the write head. Using an effect called spin-transfer torque, it improves the recording field and write head performance allowing more conventional (and cheaper) recording mediums to be used on the platters.
MG09ACA18TE Lab test setup
The MG09ACA18TE targets use in storage appliances and in multi-drive RAID arrays so, for real-world performance testing, we used Qnap’s TVS-882BR. As one of Qnap’s high-end SMB models, this 8-bay desktop appliance is equipped with a 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-7700 CPU and 32GB of DDR4 memory.
The QTS system software and apps were all loaded on a dedicated mirrored array comprising two enterprise-class 1.92TB Micron 5200 Max SATA SSDs. For performance testing, we fitted four MG09ACA18TE drives and created a dedicated 49TB RAID5 storage pool.
Qnap has implemented Fibre Channel support in QTS so we took advantage of this high-performance feature and installed an ATTO Celerity FC-164P HBA with quad 16Gbps FC ports in the appliance. Our test host was a Dell EMC PowerEdge T640 tower server with dual 2.1GHz 22-core Xeon Scalable Gold 6152 CPUs, 384GB of DDR4 plus an ATTO Celerity FC-164P HBA and running Windows Server 2019.
We created a dedicated 1TB FC LUN on the test drive array and mapped it to the server over a dual-port 32Gbps MPIO FC connection. Tests were conducted using Iometer configured with 256KB transfer request sizes for testing maximum sequential and random read/write rates and 4KB request sizes to measure IOPS throughput.
MG09ACA18TE Performance analysis
Testing the Toshiba MG09 drives in a RAID array and over high-performance fibre channel connections to a host system allowed us to see how they behave in a real world business environment. Furthermore, as the rig was exactly the same as the one used to test Seagate’s 18TB Exos X18 and WD’s UltraStar DC HC550 drives, we could directly compare performance results.
The MG09 claims a small performance boost over the MG08 models with quoted sustained single drive transfer rates rising from 274MB/sec to 281MB/sec. This is also slightly faster than the Exos X18 and HC550 drives which offer 270MB/sec and 269MB/sec respectively.
Overall, the MG09 drives didn’t disappoint as they performed exceedingly well with them matching, and sometimes exceeding, the speeds we saw with the Seagate and WD 18TB drives. In our Iometer sequential tests, the MG09ACA18TE array returned read and write speeds of 3,152MB/sec and 3,130MB/sec putting it on a par with Seagate and WD.
Random read performance was very similar with Toshiba, Seagate and WD returning 3,151MB/sec, 3,150MB/sec and 3,149MB/sec respectively. Our 100% random write test is a worst-case scenario as few businesses will have these kinds of workloads but Toshiba drew slightly ahead with 91MB/sec compared to 88MB/sec for Seagate and 86MB/sec for WD.
Our IOPS throughput tests saw very similar performance characteristics. Toshiba returned 303,500 and 238,700 IOPS for sequential reads and writes – slightly better than Seagate and WD. Swapping to random read and write operations saw Toshiba return 301,300 IOPS and 3,260 IOPS – also in the same ballpark as Seagate and WD.
Competition between the three top manufacturers is getting ever more intense as they look for new and innovative ways to drive up hard disk capacities. Seagate and Western Digital launched their 18TB models a few months ago and although Toshiba is a late arrival, the MG09 series shows it is up to the challenge as they are highly competitive alternatives.
As with the Exos X18 and DC HC550 models, the MG09 drives offer a 2.5M hour MTBF plus 550TB yearly workload ratings. Toshiba’s claimed single drive performance is slightly higher than the rest and although the differences were relatively small, we saw this manifest itself in our real world tests.
Toshiba offers plenty of choice for those that want to own the world’s first FC-MAMR drives. Along with SATA and SAS interfaces, you have 16TB and 18TB capacities, versions that support 512e and 4Kn sectors, SED (self-encrypting drive) options and models with Toshiba’s Sanitize Instant Erase (SIE) feature set.
The icing on the cake is Toshiba’s MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) of only $525. This makes the MG09ACA18TE incredibly affordable for SMBs and enterprises alike – especially as it includes a standard 5-year warranty.
Toshiba offers plenty of choice for those that want to own the world’s first FC-MAMR drives. The icing on the cake is Toshiba’s MSRP of only $525. This makes the MG09ACA18TE incredibly affordable for SMBs and enterprises alike - especially as it includes a standard 5-year warranty.