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Digital Storage And Memory Projections For 2024, Part 1

For several years I have written a series of three articles outlining my projections for various digital storage and non-volatile memory technologies for the coming year and beyond. This will be the first of my projection articles for 2024, focusing on magnetic recording technology, particularly hard disk drives (HDDs) and magnetic tape.

The slump in HDD shipments, which started in mid-2022 continued through 2023. This was part of a broader slump in all storage and memory technology during 2023 (only in the last quarter of 2024 are there signs that some storage and memory prices are increasing). Part of this slump was due to the continuing decline in legacy HDD shipments (down about 28% from 81M units by Q3 2022 to 58M units by Q3 2023) especially with the end of Covid shutdowns. SSDs are displacing HDDs in most of these applications.

The other part of the slump is due to a decline in high-capacity HDDs for enterprise and data center applications. These drive units were down about 41% for Q1-Q3 2023 compared to Q1-Q3 2022 (35.3M versus 60.1M units). This decline hit the part of the HDD industry that had experienced growth in past years and should experience growth again once inventory levels at customers reach reasonable levels again (which should be soon).

Total HDD shipments in C3Q 2023 were down 8.2% compared with C2Q 2023 (26.8 M versus 31.1M). This continued the downward trend since Q1 2022. Total exabytes shipped in C3Q 2023 were only down about 0.61% from C2Q 2023 (perhaps indicating that capacity shipment declines are near an end). Overall capacity shipped in 2023 is estimate at 875EB, down about 29% from the prior year. C4Q is expected to show a much smaller decline in HDD shipments and perhaps a modest increase in shipped capacity.

There was an 12% average sales price (ASP) increase from C2Q 2023 to C3Q 2023. This was due to increasing ASPs at both Seagate and Western Digital.

Although down from the peak ASP in 2021, we expect that prices will rise with more demand and less manufacturing capacity in 2024. This will continue the general trend for HDD ASP growth since 2011 as legacy applications (e.g. storage for PCs and high performance enterprise HDDs) have lost ground to SSDs. We expect that HDD ASPs will continue to increase in coming years as nearline HDD shipments grow to over 85% of total HDD shipments by 2028.

We project total HDDs shipped in 2023 will be about 127M units, down about 26% from 172M units shipped in 2022. Market share between the three HDD manufacturers will likely be about 44% for Seagate, 37% for WDC and 19% for Toshiba.

We believe that demand for high-capacity nearline drives will continue to drive HDD capacity demand higher in the coming years with projected storage capacity shipped in 2028 at 4,457 EB.

Increasing storage capacity per drive results in lower prices per bit of data ($/TB). For high-capacity enterprise and data center HDDs, helium sealed drives with more disks allows higher capacities. Currently these drives are available with up to 10 disks. More disks may be possible, maybe even up to 12 disks, but this would require moving these drives to thinner glass substrates which would be stiffer than aluminum substrates as well as changes to the magnetic head height and the head suspensions.

HDD capacities can also be increased by shingling the tracks (partially writing new tracks over existing tracks), although as the drive gets full writing new data requires moving good data to another location and then writing the new and good data again (a process somewhat like the erase and write process for SSDs). This type of drive is most effective for write-once archiving applications.

HDD capacities can also be increased by increasing the track density or the linear density of the information recorded on the concentric tracks. Track density increases have slowed down after the introduction of multi-actuator HDDs where the additional actuators are located near the recording head. However, energy assisted magnetic recording where energy is applied to very stable magnetic recording media (having high magnetic coercivity) to allow it to be written on, is the best hope for increasing the linear density of magnetic recording.

WDC introduced its ePMR HDDs, which it says is a form of energy assisted magnetic recording in 2020. In 2021 WDC introduced its OptiNAND HDDs. The OptiNAND drives use an embedded UFS SSD to store larger amounts of metadata, enabling faster access to data on the HDD and freeing up some additional capacity on the HDD. WDC used these technologies to introduce 22TB conventional (with perpendicular magnetic recording, but not shingled) HDDs in 2022. The company’s ultra-SMR, using the OptiNAND technology plus shingling to boost the drive capacity to 26TB (18% higher capacity). WDC says that a significant percentage of their data center drives use SMR (up to 40%).

In August 2023 WDC introduced 24TB CMR HDDs and SMR 28TB HDDs using its ePMR and OptiNAND technology.

Toshiba announced HDDs with a form of energy assisted magnetic recording, called microwave assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) in 2021. In the Fall of 2023, the company introduced a 22TB enterprise and data center HDD.

Seagate introduced its own 24TB CMR HDDs and also said that it would offer 28TB of shingled drive capacity in the Fall of 2023. Seagate however is also championing another form of energy assisted magnetic recording, heat assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) that uses lasers to heat the disk surface during writing. The company has been sampling CMR 32TB HAMR HDDs in 2023 and plans to go into mass production of 30+TB HDDs in early 2024. Shingled versions of these HAMR drives could offer close about 36TB of capacity. Seagate has indicated that it expects to have 40+TB products available by 2025-2026 and 50+TB HDDs by the end of the decade.

With its introduction of HAMR HDDs in 2024, Seagate could have a significant advantage over WDC and Toshiba for at least a few quarters. In order to match these HDD capacities WDC will need to either ramp up its own HAMR HDD program or it, along with Toshiba, will need to buy HAMR heads from TDK and perhaps HAMR media from Resonac (formerly known as Showa Denko).

Seagate and WDC have also been shipping some dual actuator HDDs (where the rotary actuator is split into two effective actuators on the same rotating point). It is expected that these dual actuator HDDs (which Seagate calls its Mach-2 HDDs) will become standard fare on higher capacity HDDs since they can increase performance and, more importantly, increase rebuild time for failed drives.

Magnetic tapes also use magnetic recording, but the areal density of magnetic tape is many generations behind HDDs. This gives magnetic tape significant future technology for increasing storage capacity in the future. However magnetic tape is different than HDDs since it uses flexible media and multiple tracks are written or read at a time. This means that magnetic tape, once mounted in a tape drive, has data rates much greater than HDDs. HDDs are increasingly used for nearline storage while magnetic tape is used to store colder data and for archiving. The primary magnetic tape technology is LTO, with over 80% of the market with IBM enterprise tape providing the balance.

In August of 2023 IBM announced its TS1170 magnetic tape drive, supporting storage capacities up to 50TB native and higher capacities with compression. The product has a native data rate of 400 MB/s and has 12Gb SAS and 16Gb Fibre Channel interface options. These drives support new tape cartridge media using Strontium Ferrite magnetic particles. The JF media is produced by Fuji Film, who also makes LTO media. There is no downward compatibility with prior generation IBM drives. This 50TB tape cartridge technology is a 2.5X increase from prior generation 20TB products.

LTO magnetic tape is the most used with LTO 9 tape the highest capacity LTO tape shipping today. LTO 9 was introduced in 2019 but wasn’t generally available until September 2021. These tapes have a native capacity of 18TB (with an areal density of recording about 1/100th that of HDDs). In 2022 the LTO tape consortium expanded its roadmap to LTO generation 14 with up to 576TB of native storage capacity.

It is expected that LTO 10 products will be announced sometime in 2024 providing 36TB of raw tape cartridge capacity. If new LTO generations are introduced about every three years then LTO 14 could be available in about 2036, with 576TB native tape cartridge capacity at about the same time as possible 200TB HDDs.

Tape manufacturers have been promoting magnetic tape as a more sustainable storage media, since little energy is used when magnetic tape cartridges are sitting on shelves. Fujifilm estimates that about 43% less carbon emissions result from the use of magnetic tape compared to HDDs.

The total market for magnetic tape media, drives and libraries is probably over $2B. IBM is the sole manufacturer of magnetic tape drives and Fujifilm and Sony are the only manufacturers of magnetic tape media. We estimate that total tape capacity shipments in 2023 will be 199EB and that this will climb to 401EB by 2028.

HDD unit shipments are expected to be down about 26% in 2023 versus 2022 and shipping capacity will be down about 29%, mostly due to slower demand for all storage in data center throughout 2023. However, data growth will require capacity shipment growth in 2024 and later years. The LTO magnetic tape roadmaps projects up to 576TB tape cartridges sometime in the 2030s.


Contact your BackupWorks Account Rep today and ask about LTO-9 Tape at 866 801 2944

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