Pushing the Capacity of Hard-Disk Technology

Arthur Cole

Clearly, solid-state technology will not send the hard-disk drive into oblivion. Both will have their uses in enterprise settings, so the question is not whether HDDs will disappear, but how will they change to suit the more refined roles as backup and bulk storage solutions.

The latest numbers indicate hard disks are still in high demand. IDC reports the market grew a healthy 20.7 percent in the second quarter, further indication that the enterprise industry as a whole is taking advantage of the economic slowdown to retool aging infrastructure. The $6.8 billion in sales for the quarter were particularly advantageous to HP, which gained a 33.3 percent increase to command nearly 20 percent of the market.

Short-term fluctuations in market performance are to be expected in any technology sector. In the long term, the overriding goal seems to be how to boost capacity, and thus lower storage costs, even beyond today's already impressive limits.

The problem so far is that developing next-gen hard-disk technology is an expensive proposition, pulling together a number of esoteric technologies aimed at refining the basic magnetic storage process. To that end, Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital have decided to pool their resources to map out the technology until it reaches an astounding 10 TB per square inch. The group is investigating things like nanoscale patterned media and Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR).

At the same time, Toshiba is pursuing its own research track with a bit-patterned approach that the company says has already hit 2.5 TB per square inch. The technology requires an insulating ring around each bit to maintain integrity. So far it seems to work in the lab, but work still needs to be done on the drive head as the company apparently has not been able to successfully read or write actual data at that level yet.

Even then, these kinds of highly dense drives are not likely to show up in the channel any time soon. Even if actual prototypes were to appear in the next few years, there is still the question of manufacturing them on a scale to make them economically feasible.

In the meantime, expect to see larger and larger hard drives for enterprise applications that don't require speedy throughput as much as raw capacity. They might not draw the kinds of headlines of days past, but they are still vital components of the enterprise infrastructure.

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