UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
Pulse Subscribe | Archive | Survey

Wise Drives

Move over CPUs, and make room for “wise drives.” That’s what Gordon Hughes, associate director of the Center for Magnetic Recording Research (CMRR), calls the next generation of disk drives which will have more builtin processing power. Disk drives have already evolved from “dumb” devices which only store and retrieve data, to having considerable onboard processing today—using their 32-bit microprocessors and megabytes of RAM to autonomously correct data errors internally and among groups of drives, and also to warn users to backup their data if hardware failure is imminent.

In a recent IEEE Spectrum article, Hughes argues that this evolution in drive processing power could allow shifting part of the processing burden from CPUs—and pave the way for smarter drives to handle functions from data mining to encryption. He admits, however, that a wholesale shift to wise drives won’t happen unless computer and drive manufacturers update entrenched interface standards. But if computer users ask for these features, Hughes says, they can expect dramatic lowcost improvements in computing environments ranging from laptops to massive storage networks. And that would be good news for CMRR’s disk drive-manufacturing sponsors, who could find new ways to differentiate their offerings in what has now largely become a commodity-type business.