Data storage

Upcoming data storage technologies to watch

Magnetic drums, tape drives, floppy disks, hard drives, compact discs, digital video discs, and many other technologies have all, at one time or another, been widely used as storage media. Today, the march towards fast, reliable, affordable and durable storage media continues at full speed.

As new storage technologies arrive at a rapid pace, here is a brief overview of how the data storage industry is likely to progress over the next few years.

The current outlook for storage technology

Technology, deployment model and cross-industry issues all contribute to the evolution of data storage, according to Tong Zhang, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and co-founder and chief scientist of ScaleFlux. The rise of new technologies and the continued acceleration in the growth of data generation are also advancing storage technologies. Deployment models for compute and storage must evolve as edge, near-line, and IoT devices change the IT infrastructure landscape, he says. “Cross-industry issues, such as data security and environmental impact/sustainability, are also major factors driving data storage changes.”

Four distinct factors are currently driving the evolution of storage technology: cost, capacity, interface speeds and density, observes Allan Buxton, director of forensics at data recovery company Secure. Data Recovery Services. Hard drive makers are competing with SSD makers by reducing access and seek times while offering higher storage capacities at lower cost, he explains. “Transistor manufacturers tout their faster I/O speeds and ability to rapidly adopt new form factors.” SSD and HDD makers tout improved reliability, but there’s no clear winner in real-world tests, Buxton notes.

Tape cartridges

Tape technology remains firmly entrenched in its role as enterprise archiving, says Buxton. Most LTO-7 and LTO-8 tape drive manufacturers have roadmaps that will take their product liners into even higher capacity storage, he says.

Tong Zhang, ScaleFlux

Data cartridge technology will continue to show incremental advances in storage density and bit cost, thanks to continuous improvement in signal processing of magnetic tape drives and read channels, Zhang said.

HDDs

Hard drive technology will continue to migrate to magnetic shingle recording technology in an effort to support the gradual improvement in storage density and bit cost, Zhang said. “Host-managed shingle hard drives will be widely deployed in data centers,” he says. “Dual-actuator hard drives can also gain traction.”

While faster interfaces remain under development, Buxton predicts that the surge in hard drive storage will continue in terms of capacity and power efficiency. “Meanwhile, the next big thing is heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which is expected to arrive within the next year.” Designed to replace Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), HAMR will require only a minimal increase in HDD production costs while increasing capabilities in existing form factors.

Meanwhile, several hard drive manufacturers have already started looking into making enterprise-grade hard drives that are filled with helium, which provides platters with a less dense spinning environment. “This means the drives can deliver the same 7,200 or 10,0000 RPM read/write speeds using less power,” Buxton says.

Solid State Drives

In the SSD storage industry, Zhang expects quad-level cell (QLC) technology to be rapidly adopted as a new level in the data storage hierarchy. QLC’s popularity is due to the fact that it offers more capacity at a lower cost than its three-level cell (TLC) predecessor.

SSDs in general will continue to improve as their interface buses improve. “Manufacturers are now taking advantage of PCI-Express 4.0 bandwidth enhancements that deliver . . . faster read and write speeds when used with the appropriate SSD,” Buxton says. didn’t stop either.Buxton predicts that QLC cells will eventually give way to penta level cells (PLC).

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Allan Buxton, Secure Data Recovery Services

Although computing storage is still in its infancy, the benefits it can bring to compute, storage and network efficiency will bring tremendous value to users, Zhang said. “Some transparent computing functions, such as transparent compression and encryption, will be widely available in enterprise-grade SSDs,” he predicts.

Storage Technologies: Into the Future

Zhang sees a promising future for advanced storage technologies, including DNA storage. “As the subject of active research, DNA storage shows promise as a very low-cost archival storage technology,” he says. Yet many technological challenges remain before DNA storage becomes a marketable technology. “For the foreseeable future, magnetic recording and flash memory will remain the only commercially viable data storage technologies,” notes Zhang.

As DNA-based storage continues to be explored, so does research in other advanced areas, such as light and fluorescence. “Discs aren’t dead either, with recent press given to a CD/Blu-Ray form factor that can store terabytes at a time,” Buxton says. “Let one of these [approaches] getting to market in a way that can compete with existing technologies remains to be seen,” he adds.

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