How Shingled Magnetic Recording Could Revolutionize Data Storage

How Shingled Magnetic Recording Could Revolutionize Data Storage

February 4

By comparison to other technology fields, things tend to evolve fairly slow in the data storage space. Even with all the horror stories and the fact that there are better options out there, some organizations are still using primitive methods like tape to backup their information. Pace aside, emerging trends like shingled magnetic recording (SMR) are proof that the needle does get to moving every now and then.

What is Shingled Magnetic Recording?

Although it may sound like the latest in roofing innovation, shingled magnetic recording is actually a concept that looks poised to take the data storage world by storm. Rather than introducing an entirely new medium, it essentially changes the way data is written and stored on traditional hard disk drives. SMR not only squeezes data tracks together, it arranges them so they overlap one another in succession. The process is similar to how a roofer drops shingles down on a roof.

SMR makes the most of a drive’s recording components by allowing data to be written in the same space, while optimizing new data as it’s written – all without compromising the integrity or reliability of the information. The result of this method is a hard drive that improves track density and aerial density by up to 2.5 times and 25 percent respectfully, according to Seagate, who is a pioneer of the SMR movement. Overall, the increase in density is said to offer capacities of more than five TB per hard drive.

Why SMR is Important for the HDD Industry

In this era of high-volume content creation and consumption, having immediate access to gourds of capacity is becoming one of the luxuries people demand. This demand has created a two-fold problem for players in the HDD game. From a physical standpoint, vendors have taken the reading and writing components of hard drives as far as they can go. What makes shingled magnetic recording such an appealing proposition is the fact that it maximizes the existing disk architecture and greatly reduces the expenses associated with new production. As a result, vendors can achieve the necessary capacity gains and keep costs low in the process.

Combined with the steady growth of  smartphones, tablets, and  even cloud computing to a degree, the rise of solid state drives has played a big hand in the once highly lucrative hard disk drive market shrinking at an alarming rate. According to a report by research firm IHS, shipment of SSDs are on course to seize one third of the PC storage market and reach 227 million units by 2017. At the same time, the report projects that shipment of HDD-based products will see a 14 percent drop from the 475 million units that went out in 2012.

The considerable cost per gigabyte edge is one of few advantages hard disk drives currently own over SSDs. According to a PCMag article, SSDs can be 60 cents more expensive per gigabyte, which could easily translate to an additional $500 or more depending on disk capacity. Shingle magnetic recording offers the promise of preserving this edge. Although traditional hardware is limited physically, SMR makes it possible to expand capacity and not only meet growing consumer demands, but continue to make the traditional hard drive a profitable storage option for manufacturers.

The Future of Data Storage

Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) has been identified as one of the technologies that will likely carry the HDD industry into the future. But with physical resources pretty much being tapped out, Western Digital and other vendors appear to be looking at SMR as the cost effective alternative that will bridge the gap between more advanced data storage systems like HAMR, which has yet to pick up commercial adoption despite all the hype.

Seagate is reportedly planning to use shingle magnetic recording technology to bolster its existing 1 TB hard drives to 5 TB drives this year, and claims that it has already shipped more than one million SMR-based drives. An additional 4 TB per drive is a huge capacity jump, so Seagate’s ability to make good on these upgrades without sacrificing performance will say a lot about the future of SMB in the world of data storage.

If you’re interested in the storage industry, check out our article on data storage trends for the year 2014.

Photo credit: Robert Scoble via Flickr