Western Digital Hammers Down On MAMR, Not HAMR, For Spinning Hard Drives

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Western Digital on Wednesday said it is investing in technology that will take spinning hard disk drives to 40 TBs and beyond in capacity as a way to meet big data and other large-capacity application needs going forward.

The San Jose, Calif.-based manufacturer of hard disk drives, flash storage, and systems featuring the two, demonstrated what it called the world's first MAMR, or microwave-assisted magnetic recording, hard drives, and discussed plans for bringing those drives to market.

While storage news, in general, is often more focused on flash and other non-volatile storage media, hard drives are still doing well, said Mike Cordano, Western Digital president and chief operating offer, during an event introducing the MAMR technology.

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Cordano, citing his company's own analysis of the storage market, said that by 2020, about 70 percent of the total storage capacity is expected to still reside on hard drives as opposed to flash or other media. "If you dig deeper, in the data center, that will be closer to 90 percent," he said.

Brendan Collins, vice president of hard drive product marketing for Western Digital, said that the demand for hard drives would continue to grow because flash storage costs about 15-times spinning drives on a cost-per-gigabyte basis.

To ensure that the cost difference between the two keeps hard drives competitive over time with flash storage in big data or other large-capacity requirements, the hard drive industry needs to find a good replacement for the current PMR, or perpendicular magnetic recording, technology which is starting to reach its limits in terms of capacity and data "writability," Collins said.

The storage industry is placing its hopes on HAMR, or heat-assisted magnetic recording, a technology that uses a small laser while recording data to heat the media as a way to increase data density. Western Digital is among those who are investing in HAMR, Collins said.

However, he said, HAMR technology is facing cost and reliability challenges because of the need to actually heat the media.

Western Digital's main focus going forward will be on MAMR technology, Collins said. With MAMR, a small microwave field is emitted by a spin torque oscillator located near the write pole of the disk read/write head. That microwave field lowers the magnetic field of the media at the point where data is being written. This allows the data writing to be done more densely without the need to heat the media.

That gives MAMR a 100-times better data writing lifetime than HAMR, letting Western Digital talk about hard drives with up to 40 TBs and more in capacity with 2.5 million hours of reliability and a five-year warranty, he said.


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