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Seagate’s HAMR Reaches the 1TB Per-Square-Inch Barrier and HGST Announces 4TB Disk

by Hu Yoshida on Apr 11, 2012

In the last few weeks there have been some major announcements for magnetic storage hard disk drives.

First was Seagate’s demonstration of HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording), which surpasses the 1TB per-square-inch magnetic recording barrier. This breaks the previous recording barrier of 620GB per-square-inch for perpendicular recording, which is the current magnetic recording technology.

Seagate has achieved a milestone 1TB per-square-inch storage density using heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology

Seagate’s press release describes the technology as follows:

HAMR technology will significantly extend the capacity of modern magnetic disc drives that use magnetic heads to read and write digital data onto spinning discs. If the storage density (the number of data bits stored on a given disc surface) continues its phenomenal growth rate, within the next five-to-ten years the data bits will become so small that they may become magnetically unstable due to a phenomenon known as superparamagnetism. The solution is to use a more stable medium, however today’s magnetic heads are unable to write data on such media. HAMR solves this problem by heating the medium with a laser-generated beam at the precise spot where data bits are being recorded. When heated, the medium becomes easier to write, and the rapid subsequent cooling stabilizes the written data. The result of this heat-assisted recording is a dramatic increase in the recorded density that can be achieved.

With this technology, Seagate predicts that they can achieve 6TB 3.5 inch disks and 2TB 2.5 inch disks later this decade, with 60TB disks available in the following 10 years. Note that there was no specific timeline for this new technology and no indication of pricing for these new HDDs. From the picture, HAMR looks like it will require some retooling of the manufacturing process, and that ultimately means cost.

Last week, HGST announced a 4TB 3.5 inch hard disk drive, using perpendicular recording, by going to 5 platters instead of the 4 which are in most 3.5 inch HDDs. This means more heads and platters–which also means more costs.

Tom Coughlin, who publishes the report HDD Capital Equipment and Technology, posted a piece on this in Forbes.

He says that the increases in HDD areal densities have slowed down to 20-25% annually, which is down from 40% or higher in past years, and one way for vendors to increase storage capacity is to add more heads and platters—like HGST is doing for 3.5 inch HDDs, and Western Digital is doing for 2.5 inch HDDs. (HGST is owned by Western Digital, but due to Federal Trade Commission requirements, they must operate as two separate brands.)

All of this indicates that the steep price erosion that we have enjoyed due to increasing areal densities of magnetic recording for the past 50 years is over, and we have to find ways to be more efficient if we are to keep our storage costs sustainable. To read more around this, take a look at previous HDS posts on storage efficiencies.

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Comments (2 )

Phil Gann on 12 Apr 2012 at 2:23 am

Hu, this is an interesting article and raises the question at which point would SSD technology match HDD technology for capacity and price point. Making HDD more dense but with increased cost v’s SSD technology that is going to bigger capacity and reducing price. Not just component cost but also TCO of a storage platform taking into account environmental related costs as well.

Tom Coughlin’s point about becoming more efficient is going to be the key for most business operations over the next couple of years.


Alex G on 25 Apr 2012 at 6:29 pm

60TB HDD sounds intriguing, but what about data protection? With the current data protection technologies, rebuilding the data that lived on a 60 TB disk drive could take months, literally. The bandwidth to the disk alone could be a barrier. It seems like there haven’t been enough advanced in data protection technologies to enable the use of “ultra high capacity drives”.

Hu, do you think we’ll get there? Will the data protection technology become good enough so that we can safely use 60 TB drives?

My impression was that the trend in enterprise storage will be to keep the capacities similar to what they are now, but go with smaller form factors and better power efficiency. That way you can fit more drives in the same amount of space, while using just about the same amount of power.

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