Start preparing now for the 50 TB-plus HDD era

With Seagate's launch of its higher-capacity HDDs, organizations will find several benefits and must also navigate a few challenges. Impacts include cost and data management.

The recent unveiling by HDD stalwart Seagate of its new Mozaic 3+ technology platform opens a new chapter in the digital age -- the era of the 50 TB HDD.

What does the prospect of an almost doubling of current HDD capacities imply for the future of data storage and digital infrastructure?

First, let's take a step back, and remember the instrumental role that the humble HDD has played in enabling digital lives. Since the first 1 TB HDD appeared in the 2000s, HDD densities have advanced at breakneck speed, thanks to breakthrough technologies such as shingled magnetic recording and perpendicular magnetic recording. These advancements opened the gate for organizations and individuals to create and store mind-blowing amounts of data, at very low cost, over extended time periods. 

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This technology has utterly transformed the way we create, consume and monetize content. Of course, to any IT professional charged with managing their organization's data and storage infrastructure, it has also created challenges. Organizations now routinely store multiple petabytes of data in aggregate, and it's all becoming more distributed as data proliferates over a multitude of core, cloud and edge locations.

It's also growing: A recent research study by TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group found that more than half of organizations are experiencing annual data growth of more than 20% -- and that's just their primary, on-premises data. With similar growth rates of cloud data, all of which organizations must manage, secure and protect, it's no surprise that the same study found that 69% said storage infrastructure demands and spending are hard to predict.

Despite these technological advancements, in the arms war for ever-greater capacities, at ever-lower price points, current HDD technologies are being stretched and areal density has started to plateau. There are other challenges, too: HDDs deployed at megascale consume mega amounts of energy. For some hyperscale cloud and other content providers looking to meet ambitious net-zero and other sustainability goals, this is increasingly problematic.

That's why the announcement of Mozaic 3+ is so noteworthy.

The fine print on Seagate's tech

Seagate's use of heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology dramatically increases areal density -- the number of bits that can be stored on a disk platter -- such that it can fit 3 TB on a single platter. That's close to double existing densities.

Combined with other innovations that will enable Seagate to initially squeeze 10 platters inside a 3.5-inch enterprise HDD, the vendor says Mozaic 3+ will allow it to almost double current HDD capacities. It expects to begin shipping 30 TB drives running Mozaic 3+ to cloud customers this quarter.

Moreover, Seagate says the technologies that underpin Mozaic 3+ are scalable to a degree that will drive even higher densities in the future. It says it's working on 4 TB and 5 TB platters, which will drive overall HDD capacities to higher than 50 TB in the coming years.

As well as significantly lowering the cost per terabyte, Seagate says Mozaic 3+ customers will also see a much lower per-terabyte power draw. This promises to help those customers deploying HDDs at scale and operating with power constraints or stringent sustainability targets.

It will be fascinating to watch how the pending 50 TB HDD era will continue to shape our digital lives.

Though the advanced technology behind Mozaic 3+ is fascinating, just as interesting will be to watch how it affects the storage landscape.

Potential effects of higher-capacity HDDs

The technology could help lower the cost of existing long-term and archive cloud storage services, increase profitability for providers or even enable new tiers of storage service. Perhaps more interestingly, it could enable new uses -- organizations could store even more data in colossal, multi-exabyte systems, at a lower price point. Organizations could retain more rich content data for longer and use it in the future to populate AI models for a range of uses.

New capabilities could emerge in the on-premises arena, since organizations could store and retain more data in a given space and power footprint. A more consolidated footprint might also enable new applications at the edge, particularly for AI applications such as inferencing. Shuttling data back and forth from edge to core or cloud for processing is expensive and time-consuming, so storing more data at the edge might open up new uses in the realm of AI and others.

Organizations would still need to manage and protect all of this additional data. If much larger data volumes become increasingly distributed across multiple cloud venues, the challenge would grow. Additionally, the notion of substantially larger HDDs potentially expands the failure domain of multi-exabyte storage systems.

Nonetheless, the promised benefits of HAMR-based HDDs will be attractive to many organizations. Expect other HDD manufacturers, including Western Digital, to follow suit. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, data also has a tendency to fill up all available HDD space. It will be fascinating to watch how the pending 50 TB HDD era will continue to shape our digital lives.

Simon Robinson is a principal analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group who focuses on existing and emerging storage and hyperconverged infrastructure technologies, and on related data- and storage-management products and services used by enterprises and service providers.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Its analysts have business relationships with technology vendors.

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