Seagate expects to put to market larger, faster enterprise HDDs by 2019 thanks to engineering advancements in spinning hard drive design. The technology is called HAMR, and with it, the company expects to make available hard drives up to 20 TB capacity in the next few years, and 50 TB HDDs within the decade.
What exactly is HAMR technology?
Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) is a way to increase drive performance for high-capacity hard disk drives. If you open up the metal encasement of a HDD, you’ll find a stack of platters composed of small, sub-micrometer magnetic bits. The smaller the bits, the higher capacity of the drive. However, the current method that HDDs use for data writes, called Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), becomes error-prone as magnetic bits reach a certain size, a limiting factor for HDD capacity.
Adding a heated layer of material on the drive platter makes the write process more stable when the bits are small. Seagate’s new drive mechanism adds the necessary heat, which effectively shrinks the bits and increases the density of writable space on the drive platters while maintaining integrity for the data.
Fast HDDs don’t have to be low-RPM
Hard drive performance—how fast a computer is able to read/write to a HDD—is understood in terms of operations per second, or IOPS. IOPS is tied to how fast the platters spin inside the drive, measured in rotations per minute (RPM). Throughout the history of hard disk storage, HDD engineers balanced a trade-off between drive speed and drive capacity. This is why we see expansive archival HDDs have comparatively lower RPMs than smaller capacity drives.
Dual actuators are better than one
Another new hard drive design aims to give large capacity enterprise storage drives an IOPS boost. The company plans to introduce drives with two actuators, which are the stylus arms that read and write to the platter by 2020.
How do dual actuators work to increase IOPS in large capacity HDDs? Seagate director Jason Fiest explains: “With two actuators operating on a single pivot point, each actuator will control half of the drive’s arms. Half the drive’s recording heads will operate together as a unit, while the other half will operate independently as a separate unit. This enables a hard drive to double its performance while maintaining the same capacity as that of a single actuator drive.”
HDD vs SSD storage in 2018 and beyond
What does this mean for end users? Seagate plans to focus less on high speed SAS HDD disks, and instead shifting attention to large capacity enterprise disks. Selling into the enterprise space is the company’s growth driver. Sales of high-capacity 10 TB hard drives used in off-premises cloud datacenters carried Seagate’s quarterly profits above expectations, albeit slightly, in Q3 2018. Such drives, called nearline storage in the industry, are the mainstay for large-scale datacenters and cloud services providers.
Seagate anticipates continued growth when its HAMR multi-actuator disk drives reach the market in 2020. The data storage manufacturer is shipping more capacity than ever—87.4 exabytes in the March quarter, up 34 percent year over year, but demand for high-speed 15,000 RPM SAS hard drives is falling off due to ‘cannibalization’ by flash storage options. Seagate executives signal they’re moving away from manufacturing low-capacity, high-speed hard drives and serving enterprise users with NVMe SSD and eventually HAMR spinning drives.
When is faster data storage better data storage?
It is preferable to host cloud applications using a faster hard drive. You want users to feel the best performance when engaging with the application, which is what you get from Seagate Cheetah 15,000 RPM HDDs and enterprise SSDs. Now, as enterprise SSD becomes more affordable, the hunch is cloud hosting companies and large-scale internal on-premises datacenters will opt for NVMe flash storage disks instead of arrays of high-speed, low capacity spinning drives.
Seagate produces Nytro 5000 SSD Series NVMe enterprise SSDs, but company leadership has made comments about being hindered getting the NAND supply it needs to compete against flash market leaders (and key NAND producers) like Samsung, which explains why it’s so excited about HADR technology.
Seagate unveiled its advanced enterprise HDD designs at the 2018 Open Compute Project summit in March.