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Dropbox begins shift to high-efficiency Western Digital Shingled Magnetic Recording disks

Ron Miller
·2-min read

Last year, Dropbox talked about making a shift to Shingled Magnetic Recording, or SMR disks for short, because of the efficiency they can give a high-volume storage platform like theirs. Today, Western Digital announced that Dropbox was one of the first companies to qualify their Ultrastar® DC HC650 20TB host-managed SMR hard disks.

Dropbox's modern infrastructure story goes back to 2017, when it decided to shift most of its business from being hosted on AWS to building their own infrastructure. As they moved through the process of making that transition in the following years, they were looking for new storage technology ideas to help drive down the cost of running their own massive storage system.

As principal engineer James Cowling told TechCrunch last year, one of the ideas that emerged was using SMR:

What emerged was SMR, which has high storage density and a lower price point. Moving to SMR gave Dropbox the ability to do more with less, increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs — an essential step for a company trying to do this on its own. “It required expertise obviously, but it was also exciting to bring a lot of efficiencies in terms of cost and storage efficiency, while pulling down boundaries between software and hardware,” Cowling said.

As it turns out, Dropbox VP of engineering Andrew Fong says that the company has been working with Western Digital for a number of years and the new SMR technology is the latest step in that partnership.

Western Digital says these drives deliver this cost savings through increased storage density and lower power requirements. "When considering exabyte-scale needs, and associated capital and operating cost of the data center, the long-term value in terms of lower cost-per-TB, higher density, low power and high reliability can help benefit the bottom line," the company said in a statement.

Time will tell if these disks deliver as promised, but they certainly show a lot of potential for a high-volume user like Dropbox.