Digital Storage Projections For 2022, Part 1 – Forbes

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For the past few years, I have been writing projection blogs on digital storage and memory and systems that use these technologies for the following year.  This will be the first of three articles looking into the future of digital storage and memory technology in 2022 and beyond.  This piece will focus on the current status and future of magnetic recording, particularly hard disk drives and magnetic tape recording.
HDD use got a boost in 2020 and early 2021 due to the purchase of computers enabling people to work remotely.  We estimate that desktop HDD shipments were 6.9% higher in 2021 than in 2020 and mobile HDD shipments were 3.0% higher.  However, with consumer SSDs selling for less than 5X the price of HDDs (in $/TB) and with many users satisfied with 1-2TB of local storage, SSDs have been gaining popularity.  As a consequence, the majority of PCs sold today and those sold in the future, will be using SSDs rather than HDDs.  HDDs continued to decline in shipments for high performance enterprise applications as well as consumer applications (down in 2021 compared to 2020 by 11.5% and 46% respectively).
The growth market for HDDs is in enterprise mass storage (nearline HDDs).  Enterprise class SSDs remain about 10X higher cost (in $/TB) than HDDs (due to the higher endurance and other features required for enterprise SSDs.  We estimate that these high-capacity HDDs unit shipments grew about 50% in 2021 compared to 2020 (this was significantly higher than the 10% YoY growth we projected for 2021 in December 2020).  With so many people working remotely during the pandemic, cloud and other remote storage were a key element in collaborative work, driving demand for mass storage in data centers.
Total HDD shipments through C3Q 2021 were about 198M units.   We project C4Q 2021 shipments will be between 60M and 65M units, resulting in 258M to 263M HDDs in total shipped in 2021.  This will be close to the same number of HDD units shipped in 2020 (260M units).  In 2022 we believe that nearline HDD shipments growth will decline from 50% to 20% YoY growth and that the decline in PC and consumer HDDs will continue.  As a result, 2022 HDD shipments are estimated at 234M units, down about 10% from shipments in 2021.  The figure below shows out updated projections for total HDD shipments out to 2026 including high, median and low estimates from 2021 to 2026.
HDD Unit Shipment History and High, Median and Low Projections to 2026
Total projected HDD exabyte are estimated at 1.43 ZB, up about 32% from 1.08ZB shipped in 2020.  By 2026 total HDD shipped storage capacity is projected to exceed 6ZB.
With the growth in nearline HDDs and declining sales of smaller capacity HDDs the average price of HDDs has been increasing during 2021 and this is likely to continue into 2022.  The historical trend is shown below.
Hard Disk Drive ASP History
The pie chart below shows shipping unit market share through C3Q21, which will likely be about the same for all of 2021.  Toshiba’s share of the HDD business increased about 1% in 2021 compared with the 2020 breakdown with Seagate’s share dropping by about the same percentage.  Toshiba announced in November that it shipped a record number of nearline HDDs in C3Q21 at 2.83M in the quarter up nearly 68% YoY with exabyte shipments increasing by 100% from 2020. 
HDD Vendor Market Share, Through C3Q21
HDDs must maintain a price ($/TB) advantage compared to SSDs to remain competitive.  The HDD companies have done this for their nearline HDDs by adding more disks and heads (drives currently have up to 9 disks), but it will be difficult to add more components in these drives than they currently have (although by going to glass or glass ceramic disks 10-12 disks could be possible).  Areal density increases are needed to continue to drive down the storage price.  
Although energy assisted magnetic recording drives are now available from all three HDD vendors there has not been any significant growth in HDD areal density in 2021.  Seagate is using heat assisted magnetic recording using lasers, Toshiba is using a type of microwave assisted recording and WDC is using a bias current during write (ePMR) to increase storage capacity.  We expect that these energy assisted recording technologies will lead to a jump in shipping HDD areal density in 2022 with a new generation of products.  To remain competitive with NAND flash an annual areal density increase of at least 15% is needed.  Seagate has projected 30TB HDDs by 2023 with 50TB HDDs possible by 2026.
Seagate and WDC are currently providing dual actuator HDDs to some data center customers for early qualification and testing.  Dual actuator HDDs double the data rate out of the HDD.  This helps on performance but the main driver for using these HDDs is that as the storage capacity per drive increases the time to do operations such as drive rebuilds increases, leading to additional risk of additional drive failures in large HDD array.  We expect general availability of dual actuator HDDs sometime in 2022.
Seagate and WDC are both using RISC-V cores in their storage products.  Seagate demoed HDDs using a built in NVMe interface at the 2021 OCP Summit.  There is a drive to replace nearline SATA HDDs with NVMe interfaces since the PCIe-based NVMe interface has higher performance than SATA and using NVMe also provides a common interface for HDDs and SSDs in a storage system.  Seagate plans to use NVMe interfaces on its dual actuator nearline HDDs.  Marvell said that it is working on controllers for NVMe HDDs.
Magnetic tapes use magnetic recording technologies, like HDDs, but the technology and digital storage density using in magnetic tapes are many generations behind those used in HDDs.  However magnetic tapes write and read on many tracks at once, so when a tape is mounted in a tape drive it has a very high data rate.  While HDDs are primarily used for secondary data in data centers, magnetic tape is most often used for cold data and archiving.  The LTO tape format has about 80% of the market with IBM enterprise tape with most of the balance.
LTO 9 was introduced in 2019, although it was not generally available until September 2021.  It has a native storage capacity of 18TB.  LTO 9 tape has magnetic recording areal density of about 13.5Gbpsi, while HDD areal density is a bit over 1 Tbpsi (tape has about 1/100th the areal density of HDDs). The LTO roadmap is shown below.  Although LTO 9 was a 50% increase in native storage capacity over LTO 8, LTO 10 and future generations are show as doubling storage capacity with each generation.  Generally, LTO introductions happen every 3 years or so, but we don’t believe there will be a new LTO product announced in 2022, with LTO 9 only recently available in volume.  
LTO Magnetic Tape Capacity Roadmap
There were no announced magnetic tape higher density demonstrations in 2021, likely due to the pandemic.  
Fujifilm has been promoting the use of magnetic tape to store cold data in data centers as a sustainability move.  The company points out that storing data on magnetic tape versus HDDs can reduce carbon emissions (mostly from reducing energy consumption) by 43%. 
The total market for magnetic tape media, drives and libraries is probably over $2B.  IBM is the sole manufacturer of magnetic tape drives and Fujifilm and Sony are the only manufacturers of magnetic tape media.  We estimate that total tape capacity shipments in 2021 were 155EB and that this will climb to 385EB by 2026.
Although declining for many applications, high capacity nearline HDDs for secondary storage in data centers increased by about 50% in 2021 and should continue to grow in 2022 and beyond.  Magnetic tape is used for cold storage and archives and uses less energy to store data than HDDs.  Both technologies will continue to be important to store the worlds data in the future.

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