Disk Makers Plan Tiny, Dense Hard Drives

Fujitsu declares 'breakthrough' toward 2.5-inch, 1.2-Tbyte enterprise SATA drives

August 11, 2007

3 Min Read
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Imagine a SAN in your briefcase. That's what disk drive vendors envision, and it could start happening this decade.

Scientists at Fujitsu Computer Products of America claim a "breakthrough" in the way data is stored on hard disk drives based on perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) -- the kinds of drives deployed in most servers and storage devices. (See Fujitsu Teams on Patterned Media.)

Fujitsu, working with Yamagata Fujitsu Ltd., Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., and Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology (KAST), has devised a method of patterning the thin-film layers of hard disk drives with honeycomb structures for storing data. In contrast, today's PMR-based drives pock thin film with random crystalline structures.

This means the aluminum oxide layer grown on top of an aluminum substrate could hold more than eight times the capacity of today's largest, fastest disk drives.

Today's 3.5-inch, 1-Tbyte drives, just starting to issue from Seagate and Hitachi, for instance, would give way to 2.5-inch drives capable of holding 1.2 Tbytes in two platters. Instead of offering 200 Gbit/s per square inch, the futuristic drives would hold up to 1 Tbit/s per square inch -- all in roughly half the space of today's drives and with the same power profile.According to David James, VP of advanced product engineering at Fujitsu Products of America, the future drives would run at 10,000 RPM or 15,000 RPM, though, in contrast with today's fastest drives, they'd deliver data on and off disks at hundreds of Mbytes per second, as opposed to 100 Mbytes to 150 Mbytes per second.

"There's no need to increase the rotational speed of the disk, since people are focused on keeping power consumption down," says James.

Fujitsu has a number of patent applications on the techniques described above, but there are no plans for production anytime soon. It will take awhile to refine and productize the technology, James says. There will also be considerable adjustments and changes to the equipment required to produce the new disks.

Meanwhile, PMR competitors aren't delaying their research efforts. Seagate plans on 3-Tbyte enterprise hard disk drives by 2010. The company sees density for hard disk drives growing by 40 percent annually for the foreseeable future.

Notably, when Seagate hits the 1-Tbit/s drive range, the supplier plans to add techniques like "heat assisted magnetic recording" and "bit patterned media recording" to increase disk capacity.The year 2010 seems a long time off, and by that time, Fujitsu's David James anticipates more widespread adoption of other technologies besides hard disk drives. "In three to five years, I think 20 percent or more of disks will be solid state disks in the mobile market and wherever they are affordable," he notes. (See Solid Data.)

Bottom line? Users can expect hard drives to shrink, but there will be plenty of alternatives. A SAN may fit in a briefcase by 2012, but it won't get there without lots of work and adjustment.

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