Seagate is going to be the first maker of hard drives to start using heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology later this year, but initially leading-edge HDDs will be available inside Seagate's Lyve storage systems as well as to select customers. But over time the technology will be used considerably wider and could even be used to reduce costs of mid-range HDDs.
The main purpose of HAMR is to increase areal density of hard drive platters and eventually enable HDD makers to design storage devices capable featuring capacities of 50 TB by 2026. But before such drives hit the market, Seagate will need to perfect the technology and the best way to do that is to ramp up production of HAMR HDDs.
The upcoming 20TB HDDs will belong to the ultra-premium segment and therefore Seagate is not going to sell a boatload of such drives at least initially. But since HAMR allows you to increase areal density of HDD platters rather tangibly, Seagate could use such platters not only for top-of-the-range drives, but also for lower-capacity offerings (e.g., 12TB, 14TB, 16TB) and reduce the number of disks as well as heads used inside them, thus lowering production costs of such devices.
Adding a laser to the head does not substantially increase its cost and glass platters (required for HAMR HDDs) are not dramatically more expensive than aluminum media. Meanwhile, cutting down the number of platters as well as heads may have a meaningful impact on costs and prices, according to Seagate.
"[HAMR] is not only about the highest capacity point," said David Mosley, CEO of Seagate, at Bernstein 2020 Operational Decisions Conference, reports SeekingAlpha. "If we can save a disk and two heads in a 16 TB drive, we will look at doing that as well. So, it's really across the whole portfolio, which is why we think that this platform play is so important. We can introduce HAMR into the same platform. The cost increases are really nominal."
Reducing costs of midrange nearline, enterprise, NAS, and surveillance HDDs is important as Seagate sells quite a lot of them. The company does not talk about bringing HAMR to consumer HDDs (which top at 14TB) just yet, but this might be an option for the future.
Another interesting thing that HAMR enables Seagate to do is to leapfrog its competitors with microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) and similar technologies that cannot match HAMR in terms of areal density. When asked about bringing 24TB HDDs to the market rather sooner than later (i.e., at the same time with 22TB drives), Mr. Mosley answered that the company already has components that allow it to build a 24TB hard drive.
"I am not going to announce the 24TB product just yet, but that's definitely the goal of HAMR, is to be able to go well beyond that," said the head of Seagate. "That's what we can do with components that are in our labs right now. We just have to build the right solutions for the customers. And these are tough applications, so we have to make sure that we get it right."
Launching a product that is ahead of the industry has its benefits as its producer can charge more for it and earn more selling it. But if the price difference between an 'exclusive' product and a 'standard' product is not justified for datacenter operators, that product will not become popular enough to be a success for its manufacturer. To that end, it is important for companies like Seagate to offer the right balance between costs, features, and performance.