Seagate may have made waves last year with its 60TB SSDs, but the company is still first and foremost a magnetic storage provider. During its conference call yesterday, the hard drive manufacturer laid out its near-term roadmap, with aggressive plans to ramp drive capacities over the next few years. Right now, Seagate’s highest-end drive tops out at 10TB, but the company plans to double that within the next three years, with 16TB drives rolling out as soon as mid-2018. Seagate, according to CEO Steve Luczo, is in the middle of a major market transition and is planning new products that capitalize on the changing storage market.
Measured strictly by unit sales, hard drive shipments are declining as SSDs chew steadily into their markets; Seagate’s unit shipments apparently fell by ~10% last year alone. Seagate is transitioning to prioritize different markets — ones where they build fewer, high-capacity drives as opposed to focusing on shipping huge numbers of low-capacity parts. Here’s Luczo (quote courtesy of Seeking Alpha):
So for the market that we’re in, we actually would say, that it’s probably going to be a growing market, because we see growth in all those applications that require high capacity. And then within that obviously, because it’s the highest capacity technology that we’re using then it’s lots of heads and disk absorption, which goes along with the units. Then as you know, going from 8 to 10 to 12 to 16, you’re going from six to eight disk, at least, on the nearline products and we do think there’s opportunities for more heads and disc on desktop and notebook, as people need higher capacity as well.
So I think from an absorption perspective, we feel pretty good – better than pretty good about calendar 2017 in terms of what it means in terms of our factory absorption, which is really what you’re asking. And no, we don’t need a disk drive unit growth to drive factory absorption like we used to, because the demand profile now is all about high capacity drives not about lots of little drives that aren’t connected that go into PCs.
Consolidating into shipping higher-capacity large drives probably has some economy of scale advantages for Seagate, and the company is looking to push into markets like surveillance, where lower-capacity SSDs are at a distinct disadvantage compared with the hard drive market. But this only works if hard drives can maintain the gap between themselves and SSDs, which is why we’ve seen so many enterprise products pushing into higher capacities. As for Seagate’s 60TB SSD, yes such technology is possible, and one day it may even replace conventional hard drives altogether, but not any time in the near future. Few companies would have the pockets to fund purchasing that kind of product; Seagate wanted to make a statement about the future of solid state storage, not launch a new enterprise division.
It’s not clear yet if the helium drives produced by companies like Seagate and pioneered at HGST will ever come to the mainstream consumer market. I tend to think not, given the additional cost and complexity of these products, but if other techniques for boosting areal density on consumer drives don’t pan out, it’s not impossible.
Now read: How do SSDs work?