Toshiba Electronics forecasts a long life for mechanical hard drives (HDD), which in 2022 will continue to play a vital role in the global storage business given the remarkable growth, and above expectations, of the total volume of data generated and stored.
Contrary to the predictions of many analysts and experts, who predicted that in 2020 hard drives would be replaced by solid state drives (SSD), two years later it is confirmed that HDD users continue to benefit from the high capacity and attractive cost of this type of storage.
According to Toshiba, the discussion about whether SSD storage will completely replace HDD is over and the two will continue to co-exist. In fact, the globally growing need for more low-cost online storage capacity can only be feasibly met by HDDs, so their future is assured for many years to come.
Toshiba recalls that in 2020 the storage component industry manufactured approximately 1,200 Exabytes (EB), that is, 1,200,000 TB of total capacity. Of that total, 1000EB in HDD and 200EB in SSD, which corresponds to an equivalent ratio of 5:1.
According to Rainer W. Kaese, senior director of storage product business development at Toshiba Electronics Europe, “This relationship notably in favor of HDDs is not surprising since, while the cost per capacity of SSDs continues to decline, the same is happening for HDDs thanks to advances in engineering”; so that “Although the ratio is expected to reach 4:1, there will continue to be demand for both technologies as storage needs continue to grow exponentially.”
Advances in HDD technology: MAMR and SMR
The capacity of conventional air-filled hard drives reached its 10TB limit a few years ago, but the use of helium has made possible thinner configurations and, however, with more plates, which allowed to increase its capacity up to 14TB. For its part, the intelligence built into the read heads has also enabled smaller magnetic bits and higher density levels, pushing the frontier up to 16TB in the 3.5-inch form factor.
Thus, 16TB is considered to be the current technological limit for perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), also called conventional magnetic recording (CRM). This is because bit densities supporting capacities greater than 16TB would require much smaller write heads, but these cannot generate enough magnetic flux to invert the bits on the media. To achieve this, additional (non-magnetic) energy is injected, a principle known as magnetic assisted recording.
Toshiba introduced its first generation of microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) technology in 2021, which uses a microwave-generating element to control and pool magnetic flux. This achieves even smaller magnetic areas per bit and, as a result, higher densities, so that capacities of 18TB are possible. Looking ahead, and thanks to new generations of MAMR technology, combined with a larger magnetic surface and more platters, Toshiba will soon bring capacities of over 20TB to individual HDDs.
Another way to pack more data onto the same magnetic surface is to write the overlapping tracks, like roof tiles, known as staggered magnetic recording (SMR). In this case, the data can still be read, but to rewrite all overlapping tracks have to be read and rewritten, leading to “uncertain” write performance. Faced with this situation, HDD manufacturers have compensated for performance degradation with intelligent caching/buffering architectures, and while it has been challenged in the past, SMR technology is now widely accepted.
Five key trends in the storage market
Alongside the aforementioned large online storage implementations, where HDDs will continue to be the basis for large active storage pools, Toshiba identifies other key trends in this market: the long life of external USB HDDs, gaming, network attached storage (NAS) and surveillance.
As for external USB HDDs, Toshiba notes that due to the replacement of HDDs with SSDs in almost all client devices, including laptops, PCs and consoles, their capacity has not grown, but has decreased to an average of 500 GB, when the demand in practice is in the range between 2 and 4TB, which makes these devices in obvious need of expansion. A similar situation exists in the world of gaming, where the adoption of SSD technology has also not brought an increase in capacity despite the fact that the memory requirements of games have grown enormously. As such, USB-connected external hard drives are now a common accessory for freeing up console disk space and safely caching memory-intensive games.
Network Attached Storage (NAS), turned into a “Swiss Army Knife” that can be used in home applications such as music and video servers, as well as home offices and SMBs, where they have gained traction in recent years, is another trend. to consider.
Finally, surveillance is another trend given the rise of these systems, which are not only used to protect private homes or company buildings, but also more complex monitoring and intelligent control tasks thanks to artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology. Here the HDDs also play a key role as a component of the storage solutions that support, with high levels of reliability, the 24×7 operation of these systems.