Western Digital MAMR Tech Pushes Future HDDs Beyond 40TB

Subject: Storage | October 11, 2017 - 11:16 PM |
Tagged: western digital, wdc, WD, STO, Spin Torque Oscillator, SMR, PMR, Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording, microwave, MAMR, HAMR, FMR

Today Western Digital made a rather significant announcement in the field of HDD technology. We’ve previously talked about upcoming ways to increase the density of HDD storage, with the seeming vaporware Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) forever looming on the horizon, just out of reach.

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WD, like others, have been researching HAMR as a possible way of increasing platter densities moving forward. They were even showing off prototypes of the technology back in 2013, but a prototype is a far cry from a production ready, fully reliable product. Seagate had been making stronger promises of HAMR, but since we are already 5 years into their 10-year prediction of 60TB HAMR HDDs (followed by further delays), it's not looking like we will see a production ready HAMR HDD model any time soon.

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Ok, so HAMR is not viable for now, but what can we do? Seems WD has figured it out, and it's a technology they have been kicking around their labs for nearly a decade. Above we see the PMR limit of ~1.1 Terabits/square inch. SMR pushes that figure to 1.4, but we are running up against the so-called 'writeability limit', which is the point at which the write head / magnetic field is too small to overcome the paramagnetic threshold of the smaller magnetic domains of higher density media. We are used to hearing that the only way to raise that limit was to heat the media with a laser while writing (HAMR), but there is a different / better way - Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording, or MAMR for short.

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Don't let the 'microwave' part of the term fool you - we are not microwaving the media with sufficient energy to actually heat it. Instead, we are doing something *way* cooler. The slide above shows how smaller grain size (higher density) requires a stronger write field to reach sufficient energy levels to reliably store a bit of data. Now check out the next slide:

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This is a lot to grasp but allow me to paraphrase greatly. Imagine a magnet with a north and south pole. If you came along with a stronger magnet and attempted to reverse its polarity by directly opposing the currently stored state, it's generally difficult to do so. Current HDD tech relies on the field being strong enough to overcome the stored polarity, but MAMR employs a Spin Torque Oscillator, which operates at a high enough frequency (20-40 GHz) to match the ferromagnetic resonance of the media. This causes a precession of the stored field (like a gyroscope) and tilts it about its vertical axis. This resonance adds the extra energy (in addition to the write field) needed to flip the field to the desired direction. What's amazing about this whole process is that thanks to the resonance effects, the STO can increase the effectiveness of the write field 3-4x while only consuming ~1/100th of the power compared to that needed to generate the write field. This reduction in the damping constant of the media is what will enable smaller magnetic domains, therefore higher platter densities in future MAMR-equipped HDDs.

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One of the best things about this new tech is that it is just a simple addition to all of other technologies already in place today. Western Digital was already making their drive heads with an advanced 'damascene' process, silently introduced about three years ago. To oversimplify the description, damascene is a process that enables greater physical precision in the shape of the head, which helps increase density. What makes this process a bigger deal now is that it more easily enables integration of the Spin Torque Oscillator into the head assembly. Aside from this head-level change and another pair of leads to provide a very small drive current (~1-2mA), every other aspect of the drive is identical to what we have today. When it comes to a relatively radical change to how the writing can be accomplished at these upcoming higher densities, doing so without needing to change any of the other fundamental technologies of the drive is a good thing. By no change, I really mean no change - MAMR can be employed on current helium-filled drives. Even SMR.

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Western Digital also slipped in another announcement, which is the shift from the older style 'nested actuator' (introduced with 2TB HDDs back in 2009), to a newer 'micro-actuator'. The newer actuator moves the articulation point much closer to the head compared to the previous technology, enabling even finer head tracking, ultimately resulting in increased track pitch. WD currently sits somewhere around 400 tracks per inch (TPI), but they hope to reach 1 million (!) thanks to this new tracking combined with MAMR and improved media chemistry.

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Now this doesn't mean we will see a sudden influx of 40TB HDDs hitting the market next week. WD still has to scale up production of STO-enabled heads, and even after that is complete, the media technology still needs to catch up to the maximum capabilities of what MAMR can achieve (creating smaller magnetic domains on the disk surface, etc). Still, it's nice to know that there is a far simpler way to flip those stored bits around without having to resort to HAMR, which seems to be perpetually years away from production. Speaking of which, I'll leave you with WD's reliability comparison between their own HAMR and MAMR technologies. Which would you choose?

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Oh yeah, and about that supposed SSD vs. HDD cost/GB crossover point. It may not be as soon as we previously thought:

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Full press blast appears after the break.


Company Builds on its Leadership of Delivering Industry’s Highest Capacity Hard Drives with Demonstration of Breakthrough Innovation on Microwave-Assisted Magnetic Recording Technology

SAN JOSE, CA — Oct. 11, 2017 — At its “Innovating to Fuel the Next Decade of Big Data” event today, Western Digital Corp. (NASDAQ: WDC) announced a breakthrough innovation for delivering ultra-high capacity hard disk drives (HDDs) to meet the future demands of Big Data with proven data center-level reliability. The event, held at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, included a demonstration of the world’s first microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) HDD and presentations from company executives and the inventor of MAMR technology, Professor Jimmy Zhu from Carnegie Mellon University. The company also showcased advancements in micro actuation and Damascene recording head technology. Western Digital expects to begin shipping ultra-high capacity MAMR HDDs in 2019 for use in data centers that support Big Data applications across a full range of industries. 

“As the volume, velocity, variety, value and longevity of both Big Data and Fast Data grow, a new generation of storage technologies are needed to not only support ever-expanding capacities, but ultimately help our customers analyze and garner insights into our increasingly connected universe of data,” said Mike Cordano, president and chief operating officer at Western Digital. “Our ground-breaking advancement in MAMR technology will enable Western Digital to address the future of high capacity storage by redefining the density potential of HDDs and introduce a new class of highly reliable, ‘ultra-high capacity’ drives. We have a proven track record for identifying, investing in and delivering advanced technologies that create new product categories and enable the world to realize the possibilities of data. Five years ago we introduced our HelioSeal®, helium-filled drive technology. Since then, we have shipped more than 20 million helium drives. That type of leadership and innovation continues today and we aim to leverage it well into the future.”

MAMR is one of two energy-assisted technologies that Western Digital has been developing for years. The company recently innovated a breakthrough in material and process that provides the required reliable and predictable performance, as well as the manufacturability to accelerate areal density and cost improvements to an estimated average of 15 percent per year.  Developments in the other energy-assisted technology, specifically, heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), present new material science and reliability challenges that are not a factor in MAMR. Only MAMR demonstrates the reliability and cost profile that meets the demands of data center operators.

At the heart of the company’s innovation breakthrough is the “spin torque oscillator” used to generate a microwave field that increases the ability to record data at ultra-high density without sacrificing reliability. Western Digital’s innovative MAMR technology is expected to offer over 4 terabits-per-square-inch over time. 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.

“Western Digital’s demonstration of MAMR technology is a significant breakthrough for the hard disk drive industry,” said John Rydning, research vice president, Hard Disk Drives, IDC.  “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.”

Western Digital’s MAMR technology is the latest innovation to significantly improve areal densities. It builds upon a number of other leading innovations from the company. In addition to HelioSeal helium-filled drive technology, MAMR also builds upon the company’s micro actuation and recording head manufacturing technologies. Western Digital’s advanced micro actuation technology for data center applications enables hard drives to accurately and reliably position magnetic heads for writing and reading at ultra-high densities. The company’s head manufacturing operations are the only internal supplier to utilize Damascene processing to manufacture heads with the precise tolerances and complex structures required for reliable and cost-effective recording at ultra-high densities. The Damascene process also provides the capability to embed the spin torque oscillator that enables the manufacturing of MAMR heads. The combination of these technologies deliver superior total cost of ownership (TCO) across all sizes of cloud and enterprise data centers.

The demonstration of Western Digital’s MAMR technology is the latest achievement in decades of HDD leadership from the company, including over 7,000 issued patents in HDD technology, on-going helium-enabled HDD technology advancements – as highlighted by the recent introduction of the world’s first host-managed shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technologyenterprise-class 14TB hard drive  –  and a long history of world’s firsts in multi-disk design.

For further information on Western Digital MAMR technology, go to http://innovation.wdc.com.

For press images and materials, visit http://bit.ly/2kHsNgf

About Western Digital 

Western Digital creates environments for data to thrive. The company is driving the innovation needed to help customers capture, preserve, access and transform an ever-increasing diversity of data. Everywhere data lives, from advanced data centers to mobile sensors to personal devices, our industry-leading solutions deliver the possibilities of data. Western Digital data-centric solutions are marketed under the G-Technology, HGST, SanDisk, Tegile, Upthere and WD brands.

October 11, 2017 | 11:36 PM - Posted by Cyclops

As impressive and innovative as the spinning rust industry has been, they're trying to compete with speed boats using steam power.

October 12, 2017 | 12:06 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Well, when it comes to storing 'big data' (mostly sequentially written), MAMR is going to push the SSD/HDD cost/GB crossover point out past 2030, so to that I'd say they are doing a pretty damn good job at competing.

October 12, 2017 | 12:41 AM - Posted by Shambles

And with end users abandoning platter drives we can expect the HDD manufacturers to cater their products even less towards us and more towards data centers.

The cynic in me thinks that the relative cost of HDD storage will continue to move at a glacial place as simply being able to use less space and power/TB will be enough to keep data centers interested even if $/TB doesn't move much.

October 12, 2017 | 01:18 AM - Posted by extide

As 'The SSD Guy' theorizes, as long as the unit price of HDD's at the high end stay ~about the same, and capacity keeps going up it will keep pushing out the crossover point. It's definitely going to be a long time.

October 12, 2017 | 12:14 AM - Posted by Michael Scrip

There's always gonna be a need for huge amounts of data storage that doesn't have to be a speed boat. Think about your NAS or a data center.

Your boot drive should be as fast as possible. An MVNe M.2 drive with 3,000MB/s read is great for that.

But data can be steam powered. :)

October 12, 2017 | 12:33 AM - Posted by arc (not verified)

With the right gear ratios and pressure systems, steam can go pretty fast.

October 12, 2017 | 01:02 AM - Posted by Anonymouse (not verified)

As long as there are storage needs where milliseconds don't matter, hard drives will remain relevant and useful. Keep in mind that tape storage is still used, despite hard drives having massive performance benefits over it for decades.

Do you want to needlessly spend thousands of dollars on storage?

October 12, 2017 | 09:04 AM - Posted by psuedonymous

Don't underestimate steam, a nuke boat w/ steam turbine is a potent combination. CODLAG & IFEP vessels need to be designed to /keep up/ with a CVN, not vice versa!

October 12, 2017 | 12:34 AM - Posted by arc (not verified)

I also need huge storage for my movies, games, series, those of us with slow internet want to KEEP the stuff they put effort into downloading. I sometimes watch stuff again.

October 12, 2017 | 02:34 AM - Posted by Kareha

I think I'll be dead by the time the cost of SSD's approaches the cost of HDD's :(

October 12, 2017 | 04:07 AM - Posted by RGB LED fan (not verified)

True, because SSDs will never overtake HDDs in terms of capacity. The research on the absolute physical limits of this was done by IBM and they managed to store one bit of data in just 12 atoms using magnetic storage.

Meanwhile, a 10nm NAND gate is something like 70 silicon atoms across, and that's not counting how long/tall it is, and silicon is already running into quantum tunneling problems at such small sizes. The smallest proposed node for silicon is 5nm, though researchers at Berkeley have made a 1nm gate transistor using carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulfide.

If you think of it this way: An SSD cell has to contain both the data being stored, as well as the faculties to read and write that stored bit, while magnetic media only needs to store the data bit itself, because the head is a separate structure.

October 12, 2017 | 04:37 AM - Posted by Jann5s

Well, you need some form of read head and space to spin the disks in on the magnetic side. Moreover, I think enterprise ssds are already denser then hdds. I’m thinking about the recently proposed ruler designs.s

Intel ruler: 32TB 0.9*3.86*32.535 cm = 0.27 TB/cm3
WD 14TB gold: 2.61*14.7*10.16 cm = 0.036 TB/cm3

October 12, 2017 | 09:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous. (not verified)

Also worth mentioning is that as SSD cell size decreases, endurance necessarily decreases as well, but this is not the case for magnetic storage. This is a cost advantage for hard drives that will only grow over time.

October 12, 2017 | 04:24 AM - Posted by Jann5s

Nice article allyn. I was worried that a possible hdd market shrink would evaporate the research budgets of wd and seagate and as a consequence we would never see these nice new technologies. This post gives me some reassurance.

October 12, 2017 | 04:26 PM - Posted by djotter

Have to wait until 2024 for 10c/GB SSD :(

October 12, 2017 | 05:39 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

I pointed that out to Ryan last night. He was disappointed :)

October 13, 2017 | 04:45 PM - Posted by fadirocks

with 8K videos, we will need more HD space

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