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The Future Of HDDS

Nidec, the supplier of about 75% of HDD spindle motors, updated its projections for HDD production in CQ4 2016 and its projections for the first quarter of 2017. The company reported HDD spindle motor units were up 5% Quarter over Quarter (CQ4 2016 through CQ1 2017) and up about 6% Year over Year. The growth of HDD spindle motors correlates with the trends in HDD units. NIdec thinks the decline in HDD units from 2015 to 2016 is about 10%.

The recovery in HDD units is driven by the growth in high-capacity nearline HDDs as well as a stabilization of PC demand. Nidec also raised its HDD projections for the second quarter of 2017, although it thinks HDD units will decline 4% Y/Y in 2017.

Seagate reported their Q4 2016 quarterly results. For Seagate, CQ4 2016 HDD unit shipments were up about 2.5% over the prior quarter. For Western Digital their drive shipments were down 5.8% from Q3 2016 to Q4 2016. Toshiba HDD shipments were down about 1.1%. We project a decline of 7.2% of HDD shipments from 2016 to 2017.

Overall drive shipments in 2016 were down about 9.4% at 424 M units shipped in 2016. This was a bit better than the 10% decline predicted by Nidec. High Performance Enterprise HDDs declined 11.3% in 2016 while Nearline HDDs increased by 1.5%. Desktop HDDs declined by 18.6% while notebook HDDs declined by 19.9%. Branded (mostly external HDDs) declined by 7.9% while Consumer Electronics HDDs increased by 20.8%, driven by game storage and some set-top box sales. The distribution of each of these categories of HDDs in the total HDD shipments is shown below.

As shown in the figure below, Western Digital shipped 41% of the total HDDs in 2016, Seagate shipped 37% and Toshiba shipped 22%. Toshiba shipment percentages are up (taking market share from Seagate and Western Digital) considerably since 2015 when it was about 16% of the total. Toshiba's biggest growth appeared to be in HDDs for consumer electronics and notebook computers.

The long-term future of HDDs likely rests with high capacity HDDs, particularly in data centers serving cloud storage applications. Indeed looking at the declining shipments in high performance HDDs and computer HDDs the best path for growth would appear to be a high a capacity drive as possible. In its earnings call Seagate said that it will ship 14 and 16 TB HDDs over the next 18 months. The company has indicated it would like to ship 20 TB HDDs by 2020. The ATSC areal density roadmap indicated that 100 TB 3.5-inch HDDs could be possible by about 2025.

Tom Coughlin consults and writes on digital storage and applications. He is chairman of the Storage Visions, Creative Storage Conferences as well as the Flash Memory Summit, tomcoughlin.com

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