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Nov 30 2014

Will HDD Capacities Reach 100 TB Within 10 Years?

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Faced with uninhibited data growth, professionals and consumers alike keep looking for the ultimate solution to the storage issues they encounter on their local machines. But now, the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium (ASTC) has released a roadmap that outlines how these troubles may be addressed until 2025.

When I bought my first PC back in 1997, its 2 GB hard drive was considered monstrous by experts and amateurs alike. "What on earth do you want with that; you'll never save more than 500 MB of data all your life," a former colleague (who got started on an Atari ST) told me – and then roared with laughter. Some two years later, the very same colleague explained to me he considered any PC equipped with less than 10 GB internal storage "unfit for professional use – better still, get 25 or even 30." Today, my music collection alone occupies roughly half a TB, with more to come – and that's still a joke when compared to friends who produce and edit HD video content or organizations working with HPC applications and Big Data. In other words, it's no surprise to find that customers are always happy to see next-gen HDDs add more capacity, despite the promises of unlimited storage space waiting in the cloud.

Against this backdrop, it's only logical that the ASTC – the research arm of the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA) – has come up with a roadmap that outlines the future of HDDs for another 10 years. According to this forecast, capacities may soon increase to 100 TB – ten times the maximum that's possible today, 25 times the size of a workstation and 50 times that of a standard desktop drive. The roadmap (pictured at the top) shows relative agreements on the way and pace in which new digital recording technologies shall be introduced and canonized.

Currently, bit areal densities on 3.5-inch HDDs reach a maximum of .86 terabit per square inch, with leading manufacturers fine-tuning conventional methods of perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR). But neither Seagate's Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR), where data tracks overlap like shingles on a rooftop, nor HGST's HelioSeal, which replaces air with helium to allow for more platters inside the drive, will be able to get anywhere near to the 10 terabits per square inch that are the industry's aim.

By contrast, ASTC predicts that the combination of two fairly new recording technologies, Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) and Bit Patterned Media Recording (BPMR), will do the trick. Both concepts have been around for a while, but so far didn't leave a major impact on the market. However, if the consortium is correct, HDD vendors will make the next great leap forwards within three years.

HAMR integrates a semiconductor laser onto a hard drive laser-based recording transducer, with the lasers setting down smaller track bits that are harder to overwrite, which makes media more stable by reducing overwrite errors. BPMR uses nanolithography to break up magnetic media into isolated small regions or „bit islands" on each platter's surface, thus reducing the size of individual bits, which are typically stored within 20 to 30 magnetic grains. This size reduction avoids the superparamagnetic effect which could otherwise cause data errors due to thermal effects.

According to ASTC estimates, HAMR will become the new HDD standard from 2017 and is expected to increase bit densities to 5 terabits per square inch. Starting in 2018 or 2019, the successor HAMR+ will blend HAMR with a 2D readback process and/or SMR. BPMR will join the mix as soon as adequate recording media with a fixed structure of tracks and sectors appear on the market – presumably between 2021 and 2023. Finally, HAMR+ and BPMR will be combined into a process called Heated-Dot Magnetic Recording (HDMR) that achieves 10 terabits per square inch, resulting in 100 TB HDDS sometime between 2023 and 2025. For more details, see storage expert Tom Coughlin's column at Forbes.com.

 
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