Source: Intel.

Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) and Western Digital (NASDAQ:WDC) are shipping 8-terabyte hard drives for enterprise customers. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) wants to "accelerate data center transformation for the digital services era" with its latest server-class Xeon chips.

To the layman, all of this seems silly. So, hard drives just got a bit larger. And server chips became a little faster again, probably. What's the big deal?

But to data center insiders and veterans, these developments go beyond empty marketing babble. My five years of Unix and network administration may be a fading memory now, but I still know this much: Intel and the hard drive makers are actually making a difference where it matters.

Gentlemen, start up your platters
Let's start with the hard drive news.

First, Seagate raised the bar in large-scale storage with an 8-terabyte enterprise product line. Before this, the largest drives available topped out at 6 TB.

Then, Western Digital matched Seagate's 8 TB drive and went even further with a 10 TB product. Sold under the HGST brand, acquired in 2012 as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, Western Digital's drives come with the added benefit of helium-filled drive cases.

The helium wrinkle lets Western Digital pack more drive platters into the same space. Rapidly spinning magnetic disks can whip up a storm of turbulence in traditional air-filled cavities, and helium reduces these effects. On the downside, critics argue that leaks in the hermetically sealed drive case will destroy the drive over time. It's a little early to tell how good Western Digital's helium seals really are, since the technology has only been around since last November.

The helium difference, as explained by Hitachi. Click here to see a larger version.

OK, alright. Hard drives are getting denser in a good way. But still, what's the big deal? If you need, say, 1,200 TB of data storage, you could just buy 200 of the old 6-TB drives instead of 150 8-TB units or 120 10-TB monsters. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Right?

Well, yes -- but then you're ignoring the requirements of a modern data center. Here's how Seagate explains it (emphasis added):

Providing up to 8TB in a single drive slot, the drive delivers maximum rack density, within an existing footprint, for the most efficient data center floor space usage possible

Western Digital agrees. The new product line "aims to deliver most cost effective, power efficient and highest density solutions for petabyte-scale data centers" (emphasis mine again).

Density matters. Packing more hardware capacity into smaller spaces helps in many ways:

  • Smaller data center footprint, which may lower rent or lease costs in many cases.
  • Lower power demands, as similar electric loads can support larger storage volumes.
  • Cheaper and easier cooling solutions, which again reduces both floor footprints and electric bills.

Indeed, both companies like to highlight their low power needs, focusing on metrics like watts per gigabyte.

Same strategy, different technology
Believe it or not, but the driving forces behind Intel's server chip innovation are largely the same as the hard drive factors.

Compared to the previous generation of Intel's best server processors, the new Xeon E5-2600 v3 product line (it's a mouthful, I know) brings 50% more processor cores to the party. For some very specialized workloads, performance per Xeon chip will increase threefold.

Moreover, the chips come with advanced power management features. It can also be married to a new high-performance Ethernet networking chip, which uses half the power of Intel's last multi-gigabit Ethernet solution.

See the themes repeating, here? More horsepower gets packed into the same rack-mounted footprint as before, while using less electric power than ever.

Smaller floor space footprints, lower power draws, simpler cooling... who put this record on repeat?

And like the hard drive giants, Intel highlights the shrinking power needs at every turn. "Our new Intel processors deliver unmatched performance, energy efficiency and security," said data center products chief Diane Bryant in a prepared statement. (Yes, I added some emphasis yet again.)

Here's another slightly highlighted quote from Intel's press materials (emphasis mine): "The Xeon E5-2600 v3 product family also increases virtualization density, allowing support for up to 70 percent more VMs per server compared to the previous generation processors, which helps to reduce data center operational expenses."

Packing more data into a tight space with minimal cooling? Sounds like a great idea. Source: Seagate.

The Foolish takeaway
Intel, Western Digital, and Seagate are all shooting for the same target here. In their view, data center operations will continue to shrink. Less floor space, lower power bills, smaller cooling solutions -- that's what it's all about nowadays. Thin is in.

But don't take my word for it -- or Intel's for that matter. If you want further confirmation for this strategy, just ask your friendly neighborhood IT director or chief technology officer.

You'll get it. 100% guarantee.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Intel, and Western Digital. Wow, that escalated quickly. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.