Western Digital sampling 18TB and 20TB hard disks for data centre customers

The company declines to confirm whether these disks use next-gen MAMR technology

Data centre

Western Digital (WD) has begun offering its data centre customers samples of new 18TB and 20TB drives that are set to become available generally next year.

Organisations like Dropbox will be offered samples of the 20TB Ultrastar DC HC650 SMR HDD and either 16TB or 18TB variants of the Ultrastar DC HC550 CMR HDD by the end of 2019. Production is then expected to ramp up in the first half of 2020, according to WD.

These drives, which feature a nine-disk mechanical platform, are designed to give cloud and hyperscale data centres greater levels of density while lowering the cost of ownership.

"Leveraging our success in bringing energy-assisted recording to market with our expertise in mechanical design, we can deliver this scalable HDD platform with significant capacity increases to our customers, particularly in the transition from 14TB to 18TB," said WD's senior vice president Christopher Bergey.

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The firm's Helium-based 14TB Ultrastar DC HC530 drive will continue to be offered alongside the Air-based 10TB iteration after the new hard disks become available more generally in 2020.

WD currently only offers hard disks with a maximum capacity of 14TB using perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology, which is said to be reaching a capacity limit.

The company is actively working on developing next-gen microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) drives which are, on the other hand, touted to boast lower energy consumption and a far denser capacity. The manufacturer refused to confirm whether or not the new drives will use MAMR technology citing "competition reasons".

"The 18TB Ultrastar DC HC550 is the first HDD in the industry using energy assisted recording technology," a spokesperson told IT Pro

"As part of our MAMR development, we've discovered a variety of energy assisted techniques that boost areal density. For competitive reasons, we are not disclosing specific details about which energy assist technologies are used in each drive."

WD's key rivals are also expanding the maximum capacity offered to data centre customers, with both Toshiba and Seagate offering 16TB hard disks. By contrast, WD is seemingly skipping the 16TB bracket altogether to instead focus on developing larger disk drives.

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The company previously released a 15TB hard drive last year, based on shingle magnetic recording (SMR) technology.

This technology is said to pack in higher storage capacities compared with similar physical-sized HDDs because the data can be stored in overlapping grooves. These are aimed more at customers that want to store data for a long time, given they're not as suitable for reuse as conventional drives.

Although flash storage technology is making major improvements in its density and capacity, meanwhile, most data centre customers don't have any need for the performance levels provided by flash, nor the cost in running flash drives.

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