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Disk drive industry appoints roadmap reading committee

Tearing along the HAMR road

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In just three months the hard disk drive industry has put flesh on the bones of its Storage Technology Alliance and pretty much decided on HAMR as the way forward, judging by WD and Xyratex pronouncements.

The hard disk drive industry trade body IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association) has set up the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium (ASTC) with founding members Hitachi GST, Marvell, Seagate, Western Digital and Xyratex, for "the formation of collaborative joint research initiatives among and between storage industry participants, customers, suppliers, universities and laboratories to harmonise in a common direction on the future of next generation storage technologies."

In other words, the consortium will decide between heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) or bit-patterned media (BPM) as the main replacement for today's PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording) technology when it runs out of steam around the 1Tbit/in2 level in a few years' time, with the overlapping track-based Shingled Write technology as a potential stopgap. The costs involved in developing a HAMR or BPM technology are so widespread across the industry supply chain that they are too great for any one company to bear.

The StorageTechnology Alliance (STA) was set up inside IDEMA in August by Hitachi GST, Seagate and Western Digital for "the formation of collaborative joint research initiatives among and between storage industry participants, customers, suppliers, universities and laboratories" – which is pretty much the same purpose.

ASTC structure

The latest IDEMA statement makes no mention of the STA but it is blindingly obvious it has morphed into the ASTC and gained members, a structure and a large budget. Idema tells us that the companies above are tier 1 members. Then there are tier 2 and 3 members, which include LSI, Texas Instruments, Fuji Electric, Heraeus, Intevac, KLA-Tencor and Veeco – making 12 founding members in all. Any other Idema member can join.

The ASTC's dashing dozen aim to recruit more members - multi-million dollar budgets have to come from somewhere - from across the global supply chain for the disk drive industry, and, running in parallel, identify specific focus areas and research projects for its first year of operation.

Through an executive council it will create and direct co-operative research endeavours across the entire supply chain. Membership fees are set in a tiered structure based on storage industry revenue. The consortium will also seek financial support from governments and associated laboratories. Technology projects will be identified and funded through a volunteer committee formed by staff from ASTC members.

The ASTC will vastly expand investment in university research projects, focusing its multi-million dollar budget on critical areas of next-generation storage technologies. We don't know where the multi-million dollar budget is going to come from, assuming that it will be the members though. Nor do we know how many millions there are in it and whether it exists as set-aside cash already.

It's possible that members will commit funding in line with their membership tier. What, if any, structured payback there will be for this gift or loan of cash is not known either.

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