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Shingle writing and STA

A temporary boost in HDD capacity is shingle writing, or shingle magnetic recording (SMR), in which recording tracks partially overlap like shingle roof tiles, so increasing track density on a platter. This would be cheaper than a transition to BPM or HAMR and could extend the use of the current perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology for a couple of years, providing some financial breathing room. Hitachi GST is interested in this and it's thought that Western Digital, so far publicly uncommitted to either BPM or HAMR, may also be looking favourably at shingled writes.

If the HDD industry collectively wants cheaper components and production and testing machinery then it needs to avoid wasting money on the wrong bet, ie on BPM if HAMR becomes the preferred choice by most HDD manufacturers. To that end the HDD supply chain trade body, IDEMA, announced its Storage Technology Alliance a couple of days ago, tasking it to devise an agreed industry road-map.

The founding members are Hitachi GST, Seagate and Western Digital, not Toshiba.

A Toshiba spokesperson said: "We cannot and will not comment on STA at this moment as we are not involved in this working group. However, we will continue to observe developments and support IDEMA as a whole. ... Naturally, Toshiba supports open standards and will partake and adopt solutions and standards determined and confirmed by the industry or industry bodies such as IDEMA."

Will Toshiba join IDEMA's Storage Technology Alliance? "[The] Storage Technology Alliance is one of many working groups within IDEMA. Toshiba is active member and/or founder of other working groups. At this moment, we are focusing on providing our full support to the working groups we are involved."

One issue the STA may have to confront and solve, is creating a level playing field.

Level playing field

Suppose Seagate has spent $3bn on HAMR and the STA decides HAMR is the way forward. Seagate says, "Yippee" and presses ahead and launches product a year or two ahead of Hitachi GST, Samsung, Toshiba and Western Digital, giving it a significant disk capacity - and hence sales - advantage. Why should BPM-favouring HDD vendors like Toshiba agree to that?

Another problem is down at the platter media recording layer production level. If HAMR is selected then BPM-focused production machinery suppliers such as Intevac, Molecular Imprints and Obducat would find their HDD market simply vanish in favour of HAMR machine suppliers. Why should they participate in an effort that could deny them a market?

The likelihood is that whichever technology is chosen - interim SMR, BPM or HAMR - the industry has to agree a timetable and some way of equalising member company investment, through technology licensing schemes perhaps, in order to prevent perceived unfair time and cost advantages to suppliers at the top of the supply chain.

How IDEMA and STA would cope with suppliers towards the lower end of the supply chain who face market exclusion if their preferred technology is not chosen looks to be a very tricky problem indeed.

STA membership is open to all IDEMA members, and the larger the membership the more standing and influence the body will have. It will need as much of that as it can get to cope with the tensions and potential fracture lines in the HDD supply chain and resolve them. ®

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