World's Largest HDD Aimed at Datacenters Revealed by Western Digital

Western Digital this month unveiled technology with which the company intends to produce the world's first 14TB enterprise-class HDD.

Designed to help cloud and hyperscale datacenters meet the growing capacity demands of Big Data applications, the HGST-branded Ultrastar Hs14 Enterprise Drive will be the first HDD to use microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) technology.

The company unveiled MAMR at its "Innovating to Fuel the Next Decade of Big Data" event, held this month at its San Jose headquarters. With this announcement, the company is declaring that "MAMR is our recording technology for the foreseeable future." The company announced the new Ultrastar drive at the event, plans to provide the first MAMR HDD engineering samples for key customers next year and expects to begin shipping ultra-high capacity MAMR HDDs in 2019.

The Ultrastar HDD will be a second-generation enterprise storage deployment of host-managed SMR technology. SMR (shingled magnetic recording) is a magnetic storage data recording technology used in HDDs to increase storage density and overall per-drive storage capacity.

Jian-Gang (Jimmy) Zhu, Carnegie Mellon University professor and coinventor of MAMR, gave a presentation about the technology at the Western Digital event. MAMR is one of two energy-assisted technologies Western Digital has been working on for several years. The breakthrough here, Zhu explained, is Western Digital's design of the spin torque oscillator, which sits near the write pole of the disk's read/write head and generates a small electromagnetic field that increases the ability of the drive to record data at ultra-high density without sacrificing reliability.

Speaking to event attendees, Brendan Collins, VP of Product Marketing in Western Digital's Devices group, laid the key benefits of MAMR for datacenter managers. He cited a PMR-like cost structure, which meets market requirements for cost and density; a highly leveraged technology base ("everything is aligned"), which supports faster qualification times, high factory yields and field reliability, and a supply base that doesn't require a lot of reinvention; a 15 percent areal density growth rate, which allows for exponential data growth; energy assist at ambient temperatures for high reliability and a guaranteed five-years disk life; and host interoperability to supports seamless plug-and-play in the datacenter.

"With sustained improvements in recording density, MAMR promises to enable hard drives with 40TB of capacity and beyond by 2025, and continued expansion beyond that timeframe," the company said in a statement.

Collins also talked about the importance of continuing HDD innovations like MAMR to the datacenter. Exabyte storage in the datacenter, he said, is growing at a rate of about 35 percent per year. By 2020, 90 percent of Exabyte's datacenter data will be stored on capacity enterprise HDDs.

IDC Analyst John Rydning called Western Digital's work with MAMR technology "a significant breakthrough for the HDD industry," and noted in a statement that the commercialization of MAMR technology "will pave the way to higher recording densities, and lower cost per terabyte hard disk drives for enterprise datacenters, video surveillance systems, and consumer NAS products."

During a post-keynote Q&A, Western Digital President and COO Mike Cordano assured attendees that, although the company is committed to MAMR, it has no plans to abandon its heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) products.

"As we've stated today, we are committed to MAMR in our products, and we consider it our primary path for the next decade or so," he said. "But as a responsible custodian of technology in the storage industry, we will continue some level of activity around HAMR."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at

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