Today at a reveal on its San Jose campus, storage company Western Digital revealed a new technology that enables growth and capacity increases in hard drive technology spanning into 2030 and beyond. This generational leap, called Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording, or MAMR, will provide enterprise and OEM customers with headroom for continued expansion of storage as the need for larger sources of data continues to grow while giving WDC a competitive advantage for multiple years.
The need for storage in enterprise and cloud is continuing to increase at a staggering rate. Application and service providers like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others build platforms on which the entirety of current compute, mobile and expanding IoT infrastructure resides. Customers and business are creating terabytes of data hourly including videos, 3D models, high quality imagery, behavioral data, and more. Add to that projections that machine created data, used for deep learning and artificial intelligence applications, could be 50x what is manually created and it is easy to understand the need for higher capacity and denser storage options.
Since the mid-2000s, most of the storage industry has predicted that the growth of flash memory, used in solid state drives from companies like Samsung, Intel, and Toshiba, would eventually overtake traditional spinning hard drives by offering lower costs per gigabyte. Flash offers substantial performance benefits over hard drives, but in bulk storage environments where performance is non-critical, 90% or more of the enterprise storage market, cost remains the most critical factor. Because of the stagnation in hard drive technology density projected through the rest of the decade, most believed that the migration to flash was inevitable.
Western Digital has shown that with this new MAMR technology, there is headroom in hard drives going forward to 2030 and beyond, fundamentally changing the outlook for hard drive products for the next decade with a target shown of 40 terabyte drive availability in 2025.
The technology that Western Digital built was done in-house, with help from researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. Because of that, executives believe that they will have a 2-3 year lead over competing manufacturers like Seagate and Toshiba, giving WDC an edge on capacity and cost inside that window. As a result, the future outlook for Western Digital to gain market and mind share with the critical “Super 7” customers of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent is extremely positive.
Another industry implication of MAMR technology is that it means the potential cross over point for mass adoption of flash based storage in non-performance-critical enterprise markets is going to be further out than expected. Groups like IMFT (Intel and Micron joint venture) and Samsung that have been planning for that shift will see another five or more years added to the timeline.
MAMR is a technology that utilizes microwave resonance (like an MRI) to make it possible to write to smaller areas of a disk platter reliably. It uses existing infrastructure and materials for much of the process but required significant R&D to implement efficiently. The result is a capability to jumpstart increases in density on hard drives over time without significant cost increases, performance questions, or platform incompatibility.
Competing solutions that have been in the running to address hard drive scaling including HAMR (heat assisted magnetic recording) require significantly larger investments in production facilities and present questions of reliability as it involves heating up elements on the disk platter upwards of 700C. Western Digital was an early part of the development of that technology as well and that gives it a unique ability to measure the pros and cons of both. With this announcement today, WDC has drawn a line in the sand and determined that MAMR is the future.