While hard drive sales on a unit basis have continued to decline, the drop hasn't been consistent across all segments of the market. In particular, high capacity drives for hyperscalers and other hosts continue to be a hot commodity, as their data storage needs continue to grow and there are few other alternatives. As such, Toshiba has announced that the company will actually be increasing its HDD production capacity, expanding one of its plants in Philippines to increase output of high-end helium-filled enterprise and nearline HDDs. The company is confident of its roadmap (and growing demand for its products) which includes numerous promising products and technologies.

The overall broad shift in HDD demand from lower capacity client to high capacity nearline drives comes as Toshiba finds itself on the outside looking in. The company’s sales mix is dominated by client HDDs, with enterprise drives accounting for about a third of it. So while Toshiba controls about 36% of the global mobile HDD shipments, it only has around 17% of the enterprise/nearline market. As a result, Toshiba is looking to make changes to capture more of the nearline market.

At its Investors Day last month, Toshiba outlined plans to radically increase the share of enterprise/nearline HDDs in its product mix in FY2021 (starts on April 1, 2021), shifting away from client drives and towards nearline drives. Overall, the company set itself a goal to capture an ‘over 20%’ share of the global enterprise/nearline HDD market while maintaining its share of the client HDD market at around 25%

To reach its new goals, Toshiba not only needs to ramp up production, but it will need to ensure it has competitive pricing and technology as well. This means the company needs to continue to invest in developing leading-edge high-capacity nearline drives for hyperscale datacenters, while at the same time keeping prices in check so that they are priced competitively for the small and mid-sized datacenter market. As well, Toshiba will have to focus on client issues, such as improving its customer support as well as collaborating more with Chinese datacenter clients.

On the product side of things, Toshiba has a rather solid roadmap. Earlier this year the company confirmed that it would use shingled magnetic recording (SMR) and energy assisted magnetic recording (EAMR) technologies (e.g., MAMR, HAMR) to boost areal density. In addition to that, the company’s roadmap now officially includes drives with 10 platters (up from nine today). Which to offer some context, a 10-platter design using the highest-capacity platters available today would enable a 22 TB HDD. Though it bears mentioning that adding a 10th platter to existing drives is not a trivial task (i.e. how do you fit it in?), so Toshiba isn't disclosing when they expect to have their 10-platter design ready.

In the meantime, the company’s roadmap includes a 20 TB HDD as soon as FY2021. And, going forward, all of Toshiba's leading-edge hard drives will be helium-filled.

The big challenge – as is often the case – is on the manufacturing side of matters. Toshiba’s current capacity to build helium-filled devices in its Carmelray Industrial Park plant is somewhat limited, so the company needs to expand these production lines to meet demands it is going to face in the coming years. It's fitting then that even Toshiba is being a bit cautious here, holding off on disclosing specific production goals for helium drives.

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Source: Toshiba

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