60TB disk drives could be a reality in 2016

Hard disk drive industry will continue to grow despite SSD encroachment

The maximum areal densities of hard disk drives are expected to more than double by 2016, according to an IHS iSuppli report on the memory and storage market published Monday.

This isn't the first such forecast -- hard drive maker Seagate has also predicted a doubling of drive density, for example. IHS iSuppli has just confirmed what the vendor community already knew.

IHS iSuppli said the increase in densities should bode well for the continued sales of hard drives for use in systems that support data-intensive applications such as video and audio, the market research firm stated.

Technologies that will make it possible to expand disk density include heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which Seagate patented in 2006. Seagate has already said it will be able to produce a 60TB 3.5-in. hard drive by 2016. Laptop drives could reach 10TB to 20TB in the same time frame, according to IHS iSuppli.

The research firm expects areal densities to climb to a maximum 1,800Gbit per square inch per platter by 2016, up from 744 Gbit per square inch in 2011. Areal density equals bit density, or bits of information per inch of a track multiplied by tracks per inch on a drive platter.

From 2011 to 2016, the five-year compound annual growth rate for HDD areal densities will be equivalent to 19%, IHS iSuppli wrote in its report.

It is estimated that hard drive areal densities will reach 780Gbit per square inch per platter this year, and then rise to 900Gbit per square inch next year.

"The rise in areal density will pave the way for continued growth of the [hard disk drive] industry," said Fang Zhang, an IHS storage systems analyst.

Zhang noted that despite technical limitations associated with today's leading technology for writing to a drive -- perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) -- other technologies such as HAMR will continue to increase capacity.

Before HAMR technology was developed, the most significant breakthrough in the effort to expand drive density was the creation of PMR technology, which Seagate and Hitachi use in their drives today.

PMR technology is expected to allow drive makers to reach the 1TB per square inch milestone in the next few years, but that will also mark the technology's upper limits, Seagate and others have said.

"In particular, growth opportunities will lie in applications associated with mass enterprise storage requirements, gaming and digital video recorders, where massive capacity is required to store high-definition video," Zhang said.

Seagate began shipping the drive that's the current areal density leader in September 2011. Designed for desktop apps, that drive boasts 4TB of capacity in a 3.5-in form factor. It has five platters with 625Gbit per square inch, or the equivalent to more than 1TB of capacity per platter.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and healthcare IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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