Seagate plans 20TB Hard Drives… but we’ll still need more!

At their second Industry Analyst Cloud Summit in San Francisco last week, Seagate shared some information that we’ve heard many times: the amount of data being created is almost incomprehensible. But they said something that many probably haven’t heard before: there won’t be enough storage capacity available to hold all that data.

According to Seagate, IDC reports show that by 2020 we’ll be storing about 13 zettabytes of data (1ZB = 1 million PBs). The problem is that only about 6.5ZB of installed capacity will be available, and the gap between available capacity and storage demand is only getting worse.

Areal Density

To help address this problem, Seagate sees 20TB storage devices (drives) coming out between now and 2020, based on improvements in current technologies in the head, disk and media management areas. Increases in Areal Density (AD), or the amount of data stored per square inch of disk media, will account for part of this expanded drive capacity. In fact, Seagate expects one technology, shingled magnetic recording (SMR), to increase AD by 20% per year, over the next decade.

Shingled Magnetic Recording

SMR takes advantage of the fact that the data tracks written on a disk drive are much thicker than they need to be. The read heads can actually read tracks that are much thinner than can be written by the drive’s write heads. This means that data tracks are recorded wider than is necessary, essentially wasting space. The way to take advantage of this differential is to overlap data tracks on the disk platter, leaving a thinner area exposed to the read head and increasing the number of tracks per inch.

Track width is fundamental to AD, and clearly in the “gnat’s eyelashes” category, with current products in the neighborhood of 300,000 tracks per radial inch. Other technologies that will soon bear fruit include Two Dimensional Magnetic Recording (TDMR) and Hetd Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR), both of which are expected to be integrated into Seagate products by 2016.

Still Short on Storage

But as mentioned above, even with these and other advancements, the estimated capacity of the storage industry will only cover about half of the projected 13ZB storage demand. Not surprisingly, the cloud is expected to hold about 60% of that total, which means the hyper-scale segment of the storage market, the biggest of the big web and cloud companies, is expected to shoulder a significant portion of that growth.

These companies are interested in buying infrastructure at the rack-level or above, and are looking to suppliers like Seagate to provide systems, not just disk drives. Seagate’s Cloud Systems and Solutions (CSS) division was created in part to address this need, drawing on expertise from several areas. The company is leveraging technology from their recent Xyratex and LSI/Avago acquisitions, core IP from years of manufacturing disk drives and eVault’s real-world expertise in cloud services. Seagate CSS is going to market well prepared, something that we’ll discuss in the next post, with a look at their Kinetic Open Storage Platform.

StorageSwiss Take

Data growth seems to be overwhelming our collective ability to store it, creating a demand for product that any manufacturer would envy. But this disk drive company clearly hasn’t been sitting on its hands. Like their peers, Seagate knows that in order to innovate at the levels demanded by the industry, they have to “think outside of the drive”. This means applying their technology to more than just storage devices and innovating at the array and systems levels to create the solutions their cloud and OEM customers need to help meet this demand.

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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