Flash Storage dominates the headlines. But as a storage medium its availability is, at a minimum, constrained and more than likely the industry will see a shortfall of available flash for the foreseeable future. The problem is it takes billions of dollars and several years to build a FAB capable of producing NAND flash. The bigger problem is the world is still creating more data than ever. While tape-based technology will have a role, hard disk drives will be the primary place where the world’s data is stored for the next decade.
In a perfect world all data would be on flash but the shortage makes that nearly impossible. In fact for the overwhelming number of use cases storing all data on flash is not even close to being necessary. This lack of flash need is because most data is captured or created, then modified and then rarely accessed again. In the “old days” we would say never accessed again. But now, thanks to search and relatively quick retrieval, users are accessing more old data more often than ever. The key, though, is data has to be searchable and has to be responsive within seconds which high capacity hard drives can deliver.
Hard Drive Technology Advances
The key is for hard drive manufacturers to continue to advance the technology with the primary focus on capacity. The current state of the art is Helium drives and Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) drives. Helium drives are now available in the 12TB capacity. SMR drives are available in 8TB capacities with 14TB drives being sampled to key customers now. We detailed SMR drives and how they can be a perfect compliment to flash technology in our article, “Flash + SMR = Storage Density and Performance.”
Given the growth in storage demands, the world is going to need more than 8-14TB drives. Companies like Seagate seem close to answering that demand. By the end of 2018 or early 2019 they should deliver Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) drive technology. HAMR technology uses a small laser – the size of a grain of salt – to heat the part of the disk that is being written to. The heat reduces the coercivity of the material. The result is much higher areal density. In short, the technology enables much higher capacity drives.
Seagate projects its first HAMR drives will have 16TBs of capacity per drive and over time they should be able to extend the technology to deliver drives of about 50TBs before 2030.
The next step is Heated Dot Magnetic Recording (HDMR) with combines HAMR technology with bit-patterned media. Seagate expects this technology will eventually deliver a 100TB hard disk drive.
The hard drive is not going anywhere. Even if flash were available in great quantities it still can’t hit the price point of hard disk drives, especially as the technology and capacities continue to advance. The world will be multi-tiered as it has always been. A key component in making the multi-tiered world work is software that automates that movement. Data management software has progressed significantly since its early mainframe and open systems days, and with the capabilities of analytics and machine learning should get even more accurate meaning it can make the integration between disk and flash increasingly seamless.