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Hidden Champions: Behind These Popular Applications Are Hard Drives


Written by Rainer W. Kaese, Senior Manager of Business Development Storage Products at Toshiba Electronics Europe

So, the digital age has nothing to do with hard drives anymore? Whoever believes that is mistaken. Even if the hard drive is not the first thing that comes to mind for many people when it comes to digital applications, that does not mean that they have no points of contact with classical memory – quite the opposite. In fact, they probably use digital services that depend on hard drives daily: No other storage medium that allows direct access provides such high storage capacities at such low costs. Toshiba names five popular applications of the digital age in which the hard drive plays a crucial role in the background:

Video Streaming: Streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, and similar, as well as the multimedia libraries of TV channels or YouTube, hold thousands of videos, often in high resolution, that require an enormous amount of storage capacity. For cost reasons, these volumes of data in the petabyte range can only be stored on hard drives; otherwise, the providers would not be able to refinance the services. This is particularly the case because the videos are not only stored on a central system but copies are also stored on systems in different regions to enable users in any part of the world to access them quickly.

Online Shopping: It is not just at Christmas or Easter time that online shopping is enjoying ever-increasing popularity. However, countless images, product descriptions and product data require plenty of storage capacity, ideally costing as little as possible so as not to further reduce the tight margins in many retail sectors. This is why the bulk of the data is stored on hard drives. Only certain types of temporary data required for quick purchase transactions, such as the shopping cart and payment information, are temporarily stored on all-flash-based storage.

Map Services: Anyone can go travelling digitally today. With their zoom functions, Google Maps and similar opens up highly detailed views of every corner of the world. In large cities, views of the buildings are also available for many streets – older images are even available in some cases, meaning that users can even take a trip back in time for several years. The numerous satellite images, aerial photos and photos of streets require an enormous volume of storage capacity and are therefore held on hard drives in cloud data centres. Google even receives aerial images from government authorities, research institutes and commercial suppliers on hard drives.

Online Memories: Cloud-based memory services such as Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive are practical for backing up important data or synchronising it across multiple devices. Practically all cloud services store large volumes of data on hard drives at low cost. Special software-defined architectures are used here: These combine a large number of drives in storage pools, delivering much higher performance than individual drives and handling a large number of simultaneous read and write access operations by users and devices.

Social Media Networks: More than five billion people use social media networks, and the figure is increasing daily. The number of photos, videos and audio files uploaded 24/7 seems almost incomprehensible. For Instagram alone the figure is over 1,000 photos per second, and for YouTube more than 500 hours of video material per minute. The network operators would not be able to cope with these volumes of data without hard drives.

Wherever large volumes need to be stored at low cost while being accessed online, there is no alternative to hard drives – regardless of whether it be popular consumer services such as video streaming, modern enterprise applications for ERP and CRM, or digitally monitored and controlled production systems. Whereas many people use smartphones and tablets on a private basis, hard drives – except NAS systems in the home – are now mainly used in data centres, where they bear the main burden of data processing in the digital age. This is why millions of drives continue to be sold year after year, which will remain unchanged over the coming years.

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