Western Digital is going to release the CMR-based Red Plus series NAS HDDs. This series assures ZFS compatibility for NAS. This is the action WD took well after being called out for switch-and-bait of WD Red models from the EFRX which used SMR to EFAX models between 2TB-to-6TB that used the lower performing and lesser reliable (for NAS) CMR technology. It all started with a lack of clarity from WD which kept defending its stance after the crowd-sourced evidence of NAS-specific issues.
The tale of the two bloody Red drives (so far)
WD introduced Red and Red Pro series HDDs to be used Network-Attached storage. Both variations were made with respective workloads and stacking capacity. WD Red was meant for SOHO NAS while the Red Pro had features and specs suited for larger business-specific NAS. Until now, WD made two variations of WD Red. The EFRX was the first WD Red hard drives, which used CMR (conventional magnetic recording) technology. In time, WD introduced EFRX Red series used SMR technology (WD calls it DMSMR).
Users did not know about the difference in recording technology and its intended workload because WD did not mention this in its specs, nor it said EFAX was meant to be used to anything less. The reliability and incompatibility issue came up when users shared their experiences of both drives in respective NAS that recommended such NAS-specific HDDs. With the help of its diagnostic tool, it was later found that EFAX used a recording technology which enables HDD makers to provide more space in its discs at a small cost of its performance. For normal workloads on a PC, this should hardly matter. But it mattered for NAS as the EFAX was too slow to complete RAID rebuilds and denied ZFS+ formats. This affected users who had WD Red drive ranging between 2-6TB storage capacity.
WD’s response added fuel to the fire
With the lack of information on WD’s end, people started approaching WD channel and tech support who denied the reliability of SMR technology. The reports from affected users exponentially grew, which prompted WD to give an official clarification:
WD Red HDDs have for many years reliably powered home and small business NAS systems around the world and have been consistently validated by major NAS manufacturers. Having built this reputation, we understand that, at times, our drives may be used in system workloads far exceeding their intended uses. Additionally, some of you have recently shared that in certain, more data-intensive, continuous read/write use cases, the WD Red HDD-powered NAS systems are not performing as you would expect.
Despite WD’s stance on SMR-based Red series HDDs, the overwhelming proof said otherwise. The company didn’t give any assurance of providing a reliable WD Red drive in its place, but it did update its marketing materials to mention the recording technology in all of its products. The recommendation of WD Red Pro and Gold series for SOHO NAS left a bad taste on everyone. Anandtech and Serve The Home stopped recommended EFAX series HDDs after conducting their tests. A few weeks ago, a law firm invited affected parties to file a class-action lawsuit against the storage provider. So it was just a matter of time see something happen.
And something did happen… with WD.
The re-classification WD Red and the introduction of WD Red Plus
WD started to clear out the mess it started by re-classifying its WD Red series of hard drives. WD made a post about it in its company blog.
The Red series has three classifications- WD Red, Red Plus and the Red Pro. The purpose-built 7,200 RPM Red Pro is unaffected and always used CMR technology. All the storage variations between 2TB to 6TB EFAX HDDs which used SMR is classified as WD Red. But all the CMR-based EFRX from the original WD Red series and the EFAX models between 8TB and 14TB fall under WD Red Plus.
The EFAX drives are now recommended for lighter loads in NAS drives. While the WD Red Plus series is what Red series is originally supposed to be, the Red series is now rebranded for basic storage and data transfer by a NAS. The Red Plus is for ‘SOHO-SMR/ Intensive workloads’ in NAS such as providing ZFS format.
At the end of the day…
While it is appreciated that WD started to correct its mistakes, it never admitted them. The first change they declared was to list its recording system. NAS-specific HDDs are usually purchased for a SOHO NAS. ZFS formatting is provided SOHO NAS made by all manufacturers.
This product overview didn’t age well…
The reclassification of EFRX HDDs from Red to Red plus highlights another oversight. WD should have made a tier lower than Red series for the EFAX drives. Rather, it denied its reliability issues for its original intended purpose. WD has yet to address its users who were bought the EFAX drives for its original purpose. The EFAX Red NAS HDDs between 2TB-to-6TB are in the market since a year before it was identified.
What can NAS manufacturers do about it?
The respective NAS manufacturers should highlight limited functionality with the Red series. The respective companies should also disable functions that are problematic with these variations. Ideally, all HDD makers should have transparent communication with all in regards to compatibility issues. But maybe they should consider having a testing method if they are going to certify certain HDD family.