An industry consortium has released a roadmap that new recording technologies could yield 100TB hard drives in about 10 years.
That density, 10 times the capacity of today's biggest hard drives, will be achieved through the use of up-and-coming techniques such as laser-assisted recording technology.
The roadmap, released by the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium (ASTC), indicates technologies such as Bit Patterned Media Recording (BPMR) and Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) will result in up to 10-terabit-per-square-inch (Tbpsi) areal densities by 2025, compared with today's .86 Tbpsi areal densities.
"This implies that a 3.5-inch HDD built with that technology could have about 10X the capacity of the 10TB HDDs in 2025, or 100TB," industry analyst Tom Coughlin wrote in a recent blog post.
Today, the leading-edge hard drive technologies are add-ons to conventional perpendicular magnetic recording methods, where bits are arranged upright and side-by-side on a spinning platter.
Western Digital's HGST division has been sealing helium gas in its enterprise drives to reduce friction created by spinning platters, thereby allowing it to pack them more tightly together. Its Ultrastar HelioSeal product line now has 8TB and 10TB hard drives.
Seagate's largest capacity drive using conventional recording is 6TB. The company has been using a technology called Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR), which overlaps data tracks on a disk platter like shingles on a rooftop to increase that to 8TB.
SMR technology, however, isn't likely to continue adding areal density, and adding helium also has limitations, according to Coughlin.
As disk drive densities increase, the potential for data errors also increases due to a phenomenon known as superparamagnetism, where the magnetic pull between bits on a platter's surface can randomly flip them, thus changing their value from one to zero or zero to one.
"Thus higher storage capacities requires the introduction of new digital storage technology," Coughlin wrote.
Seagate believes it can produce a 30TB drive by 2020 using (HAMR). HAMR integrates a semiconductor laser onto a hard drive recording transducer. The lasers are able to set down smaller bits, but ones that are also harder to overwrite, which makes the media more stable by reducing overwrite errors.
The marketing campaign Seagate has used is "20TB by 2020", but Seagate CTO, Mark Re, said that's just a target. Seagate is planning to release its first HAMR-enabled drives in 2016.
Last month, Invest Northern Ireland, a regional business development agency, announced that Seagate had dropped about $55 million into further financing its existing wafer facility in Northern Ireland; that facility is developing HAMR technology. The Dublin plant is one of two working on HAMR; the other is in Minnesota.
While SMR technology has increased bit density on disk drive platters by 25 per cent or more, to about 1Tbit per square inch, HAMR technology will increase it to 5Tbits per square inch, Re said.
By comparison, in March 2005, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) demonstrated an areal density of 230 gigabits per square inch (Gb/in2) on what was then its new perpendicular recording technology.
By 2021, HGST is expected be shipping higher-density disks using BPMR, which uses nanolithography to break magnetic media down into small regions or bit "islands" on a platter's surface. Bits, which are typically made up of 20 magnetic grains, can then be reduced in size without risk of the superparamagnetic effect.
According to the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium's roadmap, BPMR will later be joined with HAMR technology, leading to Heated Dot Magnetic Recording.