Seagate is working on multiple consumer hard drives featuring a 20TB capacity that will use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) and shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technologies, which are more cost effective than Seagate's current, business-focused HAMR technology. The company's 20TB SMR HDDs will be available in the second half of this calendar year, so they're not too far out.
"We expect to begin shipping 20TB PMR drives in the second half of this calendar year," said Dave Mosley, CEO of Seagate, during the company's earnings call with analysts and investors (via SeekingAlpha).
Seagate currently ships 20TB hard drives that use its heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology to select partners and inside its Lyve storage systems. However, these drives are not intended as mass market products. Instead, the company is prepping to release PMR-based 20TB HDDs (with two dimensional magnetic recording [TDMR] enhancement) for typical customers requiring high capacities, and it's also working on SMR-based 20TB drives for hyperscalers with software that can take into account shingled magnetic recording technology.
Seagate is apparently already qualifying its 20TB drives with various customers, so you can expect the company to introduce a range of 20TB HDDs aimed at different applications.
"We have a number of different 20TB platforms coming: PMR, SMR, HAMR," said Mosley. "There are a lot of different flavors of them, and they are targeted to different customers so different qualification schedules for each. We are very aggressive with the 20TB qualification"
HAMR drives require new media and new write heads. These heads of media have been mass produced for about a year, so their quality and costs are predictable. Meanwhile, media and the TDMR read heads that Seagate has been using for its 14TB, 16TB, and 18TB HDDs have been in mass production for years, so they are still cheaper than the components used for HAMR drives. To that end, it makes more sense for Seagate to offer traditional PMR (with TDMR) and SMR drives at a 20TB capacity point.
Earlier this year Seagate said that its HAMR technology would enable it to quickly introduce hard drives with capacities like 22TB or 24TB if it needs to, but the company did not outline any exact timeframes for when such drives are set to be available. As it turns out, there are plenty of customers that would rather use 20TB HDDs featuring PMR+TDMR or SMR technology.
Chia Drives Demand for HDDs, Only Not for New HDDs
The head of Seagate confirmed that Chia cryptocurrency farming has indeed increased demand for hard drives in Q2 2021, but he implied that most of the drives used by the Chia network (31.8PB at press time) were bought on the secondhand market. Mosley said that Chia generated some 4%~7% of exabytes demand in the company's Q4 FY2021, so it does not make much sense to significantly boost production of hard drives, invest in additional manufacturing capacity, or rush high-capacity HDDs (e.g., 20TB models) to the market to meet this demand.
"During the June quarter, we saw a meaningful increase in HDD demand due in part to the initial build-out of the Chia netspace, which is comprised of both new and repurposed HDDs," said Mosley. "By our estimation, new Chia demand represented at most a mid-single digit percentage of the total industry exabyte shipments during the quarter, primarily into the distribution channel."
While Seagate remains optimistic about Chia and opportunities this cryptocurrency presents for HDDs, it is noteworthy that the space allocated to Chia network was relatively stagnant this month. That's in part because people are replotting their existing plots to participate in pooled farming, and the net result is netspace only increased from 29.2PB in early July to 31.8PB on July 22. The lack of growth likely also stems from the fact that Chia farming profitability has dropped substantially since the early days. At present, a 20TB HDD filled with Chia plots would only net around $25 per month.