Hard drive makers are staving off obsolescence to solid-state drives (SSDs) by offering capacities that are simply not feasible in an SSD. Seagate and Western Digital are both pushing to release 20TB hard disks in the next few years. A 20TB SSD might be doable but also cost more than a new car.
But Showa Denko K.K. of Japan has gone one further with the announcement of its next-generation of heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) media for hard drives. The platters use all-new magnetic thin films to maximize their data density, with the goal of eventually enabling 70TB to 80TB hard drives in a 3.5-inch form factor.
Showa Denko is the world’s largest independent maker of platters for hard drives, selling them to basically anyone left making hard drives not named Seagate and Western Digital. Those two make their own platters and are working on their own next-generation drives for release in the coming years.
While similar in concept, Seagate and Western Digital have chosen different solutions to the same problem. HAMR, championed by Seagate and Showa, works by temporarily heating the disk material during the write process so data can be written to a much smaller space, thus increasing capacity.
Western Digital supports a different technology called microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR). It operates under a similar concept as HAMR but uses microwaves instead of heat to alter the drive platter. Seagate hopes to get to 48TB by 2023, while Western Digital is planning on releasing 18TB and 20TB drives this year.
Heat is never good for a piece of electrical equipment, and Showa Denko’s platters for HAMR HDDs are made of a special composite alloy to tolerate temperature and reduce wear, not to mention increase density. A standard hard disk has a density of about 1.1TB per square inch. Showa’s drive platters have a density of 5-6TB per square inch.
The question is when they will be for sale, and who will use them. Fellow Japanese electronics giant Toshiba is expected to ship drives with Showa platters later this year. Seagate will be the first American company to adopt HAMR, with 20TB drives scheduled to ship in late 2020.
Know what’s scary? That still may not be enough. IDC predicts that our global datasphere – the total of all of the digital data we create, consume, or capture – will grow from a total of approximately 40 zettabytes of data in 2019 to 175 zettabytes total by 2025.
So even with the growth in hard-drive density, the growth in the global data pool – everything from Oracle databases to Instagram photos – may still mean deploying thousands upon thousands of hard drives across data centers.