Yesterday, Western Digital announced a breakthrough in microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) that completely took the storage industry by surprise. The takeaway was that Western Digital would be using MAMR instead of HAMR for driving up hard drive capacities over the next decade. Before going into the specifics, it is beneficial to have some background on the motivation behind MAMR.

​Hard drives may be on the way out for client computing systems, but, they will continue to be the storage media of choice for datacenters. The Storage Networking Industry Association has the best resources for identifying trends in the hard drive industry. As recently as last year, heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) was expected to be the technology update responsible for increasing hard drive capacities.

Slide Courtesy: Dr.Ed Grochowski's SNIA 2016 Storage Developer Conference Presentation 
'The Magnetic Hard Disk Drive: Today’s Technical Status and Its Future' (VideoPDF)

Mechanical Hard Drives are Here to Stay

One of the common misconceptions amongst readers focused on consumer technology relates to flash / SSDs rendering HDDs obsolete. While using SSDs over HDDs is definitely true in the client computing ecosystem, it is different for bulk storage. Bulk storage in the data center, as well as the consumer market, will continue to rely on mechanical hard drives for the foreseeable future.

The main reason lies in the 'Cost per GB' metric.

Home consumers are currently looking at drives to hold 10 TB+ of data, while datacenters are looking to optimize their 'Total Cost of Ownership' (TCO) by cramming as many petabytes as possible in a single rack. This is particularly prevalant for cold storage and archival purposes, but can also expand to content delivery networks. Western Digital had a couple of slides in their launch presentation yesterday that point towards hard drives continuing to enjoy this advantage, thanks to MAMR being cost-effective.

Despite new HDD technology, advancements in solid state memory technology are running at a faster pace. As a result SSD technology and NAND Flash have ensured that performance enterprise HDDs will make up only a very minor part of the total storage capacity each year in the enterprise segment.

The projections presented by any vendor's internal research team always need to be taken with a grain of salt, but given that SanDisk is now a part of Western Digital the above market share numbers for different storage types seem entirely plausible.

In the next section, we take a look at advancements in hard drive technology over the last couple of decades. This will provide further technical context to the MAMR announcement from Western Digital.


Part 1: Scaling Hard Drive Capacities and a Route to MAMR
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • AnTech - Friday, October 13, 2017 - link

    Bring faster, larger and cheaper SSD. Once you try them, you do not want rotational mechanical disks, even for free!
  • Lolimaster - Saturday, October 14, 2017 - link

    For movies, music, pictures (except for thumbnail generation), game storage HDD is the thing you want.

    SSD is basically OS/Apps and some open world games, and store things for a casual user (<500GB at any given time and max usage for years).
  • someonesomewherelse - Saturday, October 14, 2017 - link

    So where are the cheap (~100 eur) 12 GB drives? #teamdatahoarding
  • Peskarik - Sunday, October 15, 2017 - link

    This is a really interesting article to read for a layman, thank you!
  • zodiacfml - Sunday, October 15, 2017 - link

    Not sure about them posting negativity of HAMR. I think it is about cost and not reliability. The heat from HAMR can be reduced significantly with a shorter and narrow laser pulse.
  • Overmind - Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - link

    @Samus - No. Heat canont beat uW and has too many drawbacks that decraese reliability.

    @cekim - You are thinking in obsolete RAID only with nothing else terms. Current solutions are much more complex and faster ever if they are based on RAIDs. You failed to consider the speed increase of the drives.

    @Jaybus - 1 gigabit Ethernet is obsolete when it comes to storage systems. Storage systems use high speed optical connections of dozens of gigabit/s. SANs do have a purpose, you know...

    @tuxRoller - cloud is not something to use as backup if you have a lot of data.

    @alpha754293 - Yes, cekim did not consider the speed increase.

    @Arbie - True. And price must stay low so HDDs can keep the largest part of the market.

    @sonny73n - Someone decided that the computer KB that = 1024 violates the S.I. definition of a kilo, which is 1000. So they invented the KiB, MiB and so forth absurdities. Veterans don't use that junk naming though. For us, the KB is still 1024 and the TB is still 1099511627776. So no worries.
  • FvBilsen - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    Can somebody make the WD presentation with the slides in this article available ? Can somebody give me guidance how to get this ?

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now