SAN JOSE, Calif. – Hitachi GST, Seagate Technology and Western Digital have agreed to form a group that will jointly conduct research and define a road map for hard disk drive technology. The group aims to end a long and heated debate about the next big leap in disk technology and is expected eventually to include all drive makers and their component vendors.
The three companies say they have already committed "multiple millions of dollars" to the new group, tentatively called the Storage Technology Alliance. The companies have been hammering out details of the new group for months.
"By the end of the year we hope to have all the hard drive and component companies, including semiconductor makers, in line because the proposition is so compelling," said Mark Geenen, chairman of the International Disk Drive and Equipment Materials Association (IDEMA), which will manage the research group.
Geenen said he is headed to Asia as early as next week to talk to drive makers Samsung and Toshiba about joining the group. Component makers such as Fuji Electric, LSI, Marvell, TDK and Texas Instruments as well as equipment makers such as Veeco Instruments Inc., Xyratex International and others are also expected to join, he said.
The expense of the next-generation technology needed to continue packing more bits in a square inch of hard disk space and industry cost pressures on a consolidating industry are driving the collaboration.
"Companies have come to the realization it’s the biggest technology transition in the last 20 years of the drive business, if not in its whole history," said Geenen. "Now that we are down to five hard disk companies and a handful of component vendors, we need to do more precompetitive collaboration so our infrastructure is tuned and ready to go."
For more than five years, Hitachi and Seagate have raced to be the first to define the next generation of hard disk technology, taking radically different routes.
Hitachi has worked to develop patterned media, a way of precisely locating bits on a spinning disk that could some say could require 12.5-nanometer lithography. Seagate has labored on heat-assisted magnetic recording, which requires a laser heat source to raise the temperature of a tiny recording spot on the disk by several hundred degrees for perhaps 150 picoseconds.
Both technologies hold promise for driving areal density far beyond about a terabit per square inch, the point at which today's perpendicular recording techniques are expected to run out of gas. Ultimately, drive makers expect to use both techniques in tandem to drive areal density beyond 50 Tbits/square inch.
Both approaches, however, are still immature and costly. The new research group is essentially a public statement that Seagate and Hitachi can no longer afford to try to get a leg up by being the first to commercialize one approach.