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Why SMR, helium, and HAMR considered future of storage

Why SMR, helium, and HAMR considered future of storage

With billions of devices already connected to the Internet, the data that they generate is set to grow at an explosive pace. In fact, a research by IDC finds that by 2020, the total amount of data generated will be close to 44 zettabytes (1 ZB equals 1 trillion gigabytes). As such, user demands for powerful storage solutions will be stronger than ever. One perplexing issue, however, is the perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology most prevalent today is approaching its inherent physical limits. Manufacturers therefore are scrambling for next-generation storage technologies that increase density and capacity while reducing weight and power consumption. In this regard, Seagate cites shingled magnetic recording (SMR), helium, and heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) as something to watch for.

According to Mark Re, CTO of Seagate, one of the key challenges for advancing the hard drive technology is increasing areal density, or the number of bits of data that can be stored in a given area. One technology that addresses this challenge is the SMR technology, which achieves higher areal densities by allowing tracks to overlap one another, like shingles on a roof, enabling more data to be written to the same space. “This is why Seagate has implemented SMR technology for some of our drives. First introduced by Seagate in 2014, SMR technology has made its way into data centers powering some of the world's most important companies,” Re said. “Because the reader element on the drive head is smaller than the writer, data can still be read on the trimmed track without compromising data integrity or reliability.”

Another technology to look for is helium drives, which may be more expensive yet can end up saving users more money due to their power efficiency. “We have seen how certain customers in cloud-based data centers are increasingly focused on reducing weight and power for large storage capacity without sacrificing performance. The higher cost of helium is offset by the savings from lower power usage and weight, resulting in an optimum total cost of ownership for cloud-based data centers,” Re said. “Seagate has engineered innovations to provide a robust seal for its helium drives, while digital-environmental sensors improve reliability by measuring humidity, pressure, and temperature inside the device.”

Last but not least, HAMR is expected to take storage to a new level of competence and reliability. Essentially, it integrates into the HDD a tiny laser that heats up each bit before it is written, allowing the drive to write smaller and smaller bits. This effectively increases today’s areal density of 1 terabit per square inch to 5 Tb. According to Re, Seagate expects to launch its first HAMR products in 2018.

And the company wants to push the envelope even further. “Seagate continues to lead its own effort in the development of HAMR together with BPM (bit patterned media). Seagate views both of these technologies as important and potentially, complementary. So much so, that we are examining ways to combine these two technologies to create what we call ‘heated-dot magnetic recording,’ or HDMR, which could take HDD capacities up to 10 Tb/square inch,” Re said.

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