Toshiba this week outlined its aggressive hard disk drive road-map for the next five years via a Business Wire press release. The company expects to rapidly increase the capacity of its HDDs for nearline applications by adopting next-generation recording technologies as well as increasing the number of platters per drive. The company's nearest plan is to introduce a 26TB hard drive by the end of fiscal 2022, which means in 14 months from now. Meanwhile, a 40+ TB HDD is expected by 2027.
There are two ways to increase capacity of a hard drive: to use platters with higher areal recording density and/or install more platters into an HDD. Traditionally, hard drive makers use both methods. At present, Toshiba's highest-capacity HDDs are its 18TB products featuring nine aluminum platters that use flux-control microwave-assisted magnetic recording (FC-MAMR) technology.
Toshiba's next step will be announcement of a 20TB HDD that will continue to rely on FC-MAMR disks, but will employ 10 of them to increase capacity. Development of a 20TB hard drive is a relatively straightforward move that will enable it to compete against 20TB HDDs from Seagate and Western Digital that have been shipping for several months now.
But while Toshiba's 20TB HDD will be an important product as it will allow the company to test its 10-platter helium-filled platform, it is not exactly going to be a breakthrough product. Based on the company's newly-released public roadmap, Toshiba intends to quickly roll-out subsequent HDD models offering higher capacity.
By the end of fiscal year 2022 that ends on March 31, 2023 (within the next 14 months), Toshiba will introduce its 10-platter 26TB HDD that will switch to microwave assisted switching MAMR (MAS-MAMR) technology enabled by platters developed by Showa Denko K.K. and heads designed by TDK. The company will maintain aggressive onward pace and intends to reveal an 11-platter 30TB drive in the following years (by the end of fiscal 2024, which ends on March 31, 2025).
But starting from 30TB ~ 35TB, Toshiba considers moving to heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology that is expected to enable long term evolution for HDDs. Toshiba says that HAMR will allow it to offer a hard drive with an over 40TB capacity after fiscal 2027, or roughly five years from now.
It is important to point out that MAS-MAMR will require Toshiba to transit to all-new platters with brand-new magnetic layers as well as new read and write heads. HAMR will require Toshiba to transit to a yet another set of key components again, which will require collaborative work with its partners. Since multiple major technology transitions naturally pose risks, Toshiba does not plan to drop MAS-MAMR for quite some time after it starts using HAMR in the middle of the decade.
"Toshiba continues to work closely with the cloud companies to understand their exact capacity and performance requirements, and the ability to utilize our next-generation technologies will be key to meeting our customers’ needs," said Raghu Gururangan, Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc. Vice President, Engineering & Product Marketing. "Many years of close collaboration work with our key component suppliers is leading to impactful technology breakthroughs to achieve higher capacities, which ultimately reduces TCO (total cost of ownership) of our nearline HDDs."
One thing that is worth noting is that Toshiba positions its high-capacity HDDs based on leading-edge magnetic recording technology primarily for nearline applications. That said, it really remains to be seen whether technologies like MAS-MAMR and/or HAMR will be used for consumer-grade HDDs and if so when.