Data Center Tech Blog

The announcement of our breakthrough in MAMR technology has stunned the industry. Getting there was not easy. Lenny Sharp shares a behind the scenes look at our path to innovation.

Lenny Sharp

Sr. Director, Enterprise HDD Product Planning and Management

A “new life for Big-Data storage;” a “staying power in the enterprise segment;” the technology that will “enable future data centers.” These are just a few of the reactions to our announcement of our breakthrough in MAMR technology, which “stunned the industry”.

Looking at it from today’s perspective, MAMR is the obvious path forward. However, to get to this conclusion was not as simple as it may look. Western Digital has invested billions of dollars to pursue solutions for problems over long horizons. We’ve had to make tough decisions along the way, and we’ve faced uncertainty and risk when it came to what technologies to invest in.

MAMR is a technology that has been around for about a decade but it was only theoretically possible. No one could prove it could work at scale nor provide a real improvement over PMR. Even our own lab experiments did not always look all that promising as far as the capacity gains we were hoping to see.

As you heard in the event, we have also been investing heavily in HAMR and will continue to do so. We have over 400 patents awarded in advancing HAMR technology and it is through our R&D investment that we amassed deep expertise in HAMR’s potential and the challenges in bringing it to market today.

This has been our approach to ensuring the advancement of technologies that solve serious problems. As appropriate, we continually make multiple investments in areas that have the potential for breakthroughs, today and tomorrow.

If we look back at helium-sealed technology, it had been obvious to the industry for many years, that helium would be beneficial for HDDs. Yet it required years of research and development to solve this challenge. We invested in a technology that enables much higher capacity drives (with low power consumption) long before the industry demanded them; long before the cloud was even introduced.

Today, helium-sealed drives represent one of the most significant storage technology advancements in decades, and a prevalent technology for cloud storage everywhere. We pioneered HelioSeal® technology in 2013. We have delivered four successful generations of drives to date and have already shipped over 20 million HelioSeal-based HDDs worldwide.

When it comes to pushing the boundaries of high-capacity drives, we have been making incremental improvements to solve the tracks per inch (TPI) challenge and extend areal density growth. We’ve built technologies into our products to support robust TPI capability without overstressing the bits per inch (BPI) component. There are three key innovations that we ushered over the last five years: our HelioSeal® drive technology, multi-stage micro actuator and the Damascene head manufacturing process:

Delivering the potential of MAMR is not only about the breakthrough in spin torque oscillator (STO), it’s also about how the technologies we’ve developed over the past decade come together. Each of these innovations, HelioSeal® drive technology, micro actuator and the Damascene process, is a critical foundation that makes this next evolution possible.

Similar to the announcement of our helium-sealed drives, we truly mature a technology in our labs before introducing it to the world. The same goes with MAMR. This is not just a theoretical breakthrough. At the launch event we showcased a prototype drive. We plan to have first customer samples next year and first drives in production in CY19.

This is a manifestation of our strategy, our technical ingenuity, and our determination to solve the world’s data challenges. Our unique strength in addressing the needs of both Big Data and Fast Data will enable data to thrive. MAMR is a game changer. It’s proof that capacity hard drives have a prodigious role in the future of data, and it will allow us to continue to lead growth and innovation in enterprise capacity for decades to come.

If you missed the virtual event, you can stream it and much more at: innovation.wdc.com.

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