Industry trends dictate a new equation for specifying desktop hard drive storage
"You can never have too much (disk
storage)." Forbes, March 24, 1997
"Get the largest hard disk you can
afford" PC World, January 1997
"You need twice the hard disk space
you needed last year." PC World, January 1997
Costs per megabyte of storage continue
to plummet, making high capacity hard drives more affordable
than ever. As a result, new model PCs with drives in the
3 and even 4 gigabyte (GB) range are now commonplace. Yet even
as PC buyers rush to take advantage of this opportunity,
the experts still caution against storage complacency. Why?
When is "enough" truly enough?
Like CPU performance, average hard drive
capacities have tended to double every 18 months, meaning
that high capacity drives are now roughly 10 times larger
than they were five years ago. Thus, today's 2.1 gigabyte (GB)
drive equates to 1992's highly respectable 240 megabyte (MB)
drive. Given today's market and technology forces, there is every
reason to believe that this trend will continue, and perhaps
accelerate, leading to the widespread use of 10 and even
12 GB drives in high-end PCs by the year 2000.
Is this being alarmist? No, just realistic.
For example, in its January 1997 issue, PC World observed
that drive usage requirements doubled over the course of
1996. There are a lot of reasons for this, including more powerful and
ever larger software programs, and increased downloading from
the Internet. But this is really only the tip of the iceberg.
As multimedia standards, including MPEG-2, fall into place,
storage requirements are set to explode even further.
At the same time, PC life cycles are becoming
extended. International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted
that "useful PC lifecycles" will elongate to "3
to 5 years plus," as opposed to the current two- to three-year
lifecycle. This of course dictates outfitting PCs with even
more storage to quell fears of early obsolescence and to
avoid inflicting users with costly hard drive upgrades (the digital
equivalent of root canal work).
Taken together, accelerating storage requirements
and prolonged equipment lifecycles are pressuring vendors to take
a hard look at storage configurations in order to differentiate
their PCs, achieve higher margins and insure customer loyalty.
To put the new storage paradigm into perspective, it's important
to understand where the new tidal waves of data are coming
from. It's also critical to grasp the new math involved in specifying
storage. And, finally, it's useful to understand which storage
technologies can best keep PC vendors and users collective heads
above the coming flood.
The consumer market: New technologies
push the need for capacity
"I thought 1.2 would be enough, but
there is so much out there, I need a 6 gig." End user
responding to a 1996 Quantum survey
As hard drive capacities continue to expand,
many people find it difficult to understand how consumers will
fill all the new space. Several broad market trends combine to
provide some answers.
To begin with, it's no secret that software
developers are coding larger and more powerful applications.
This has been the rule for some time, and is not likely
to change. Computer games, meanwhile, are becoming more data intensive
thanks to full-motion video, 3D effects and Dolby AC-3 sound.
As this happens, developers are relying more and more on
hard disk caching to increase game performance.
Then there's the Internet. Consumers are
literally swarming to shareware sites for free applications,
downloading large files and allowing sites to constantly
"push" streams of data and software onto their PCs.
In fact, three of the five most popular Internet locations are
In the multimedia arena, millions of desktop
PCs are expected to be equipped with MMX technology over
the next four years, enabling them to run multimedia applications
without add-in boards or chips. As multimedia files are many times
larger than traditional text files, the storage requirements for
MMX-enabled PCs will be immense. By 1999, Quantum expects the
typical user will be allocating about 2 GB for storing graphics,
photos and other multimedia information.
Full-motion video = full drives
Finally, industry observers see skyrocketing popularity for digital video clips and movies over the next two or three years, enabled by new MPEG-2 (Motion Picture Experts Group)
compression standards. Dataquest, for example,
forecasts that MPEG chipset shipments will quadruple to more than
48 million during the year 2000, amounting to almost 100
percent penetration of the desktop market.
While DVD-ROM discs will carry MPEG content,
roughly twice as many PCs will have MPEG chips than will
have DVD-ROM drives. As a result, users will turn to the
Internet, using faster and faster modems, to download MPEG movie clips,
videos and news stories. And for the sake of performance, they
will place the content directly on their hard drives at a
capacity gobbling pace of up to 35 MB per minute! When you
consider that a two-minute movie trailer requires 70 MB of
storage, a five minute music video requires 175 MB and a feature
movie requires 5 GB, it's easy to see why consumers will continue
to clamor for more capacious drives to even temporarily store
The business market: applications and
storage needs proliferate
Business users typically run a wider range
of programs than home users, adding such specialized business/professional
programs as desktop publishing, CAD/CAM, design programs,
mapping, digital asset management, assorted video applications
and music editing to more general-purpose word processing, spreadsheet
applications and databases. Like consumer programs, these professional
applications are also expanding in size, and in the sheer volume
of data they have to manage.
While network PCs for the workplace have
garnered attention, widespread popularity may not necessarily
follow. For one thing, personal and group applications thrive
on having information at users' fingertips, and most users
are not interested in relinquishing the hard-earned freedom (and
resultant productivity) they've gained from improved operating
systems and applications in recent years.
At the same time, IS departments are not
anxious to increase network usage - rather they are interested
in preserving network bandwidth for mission-critical applications
such as accounting and manufacturing systems and for the corporate
intranet and e-mail systems.
Given the affordability of high capacity
drives, it is now very cost effective for IS to continue
to allow users to manage their individual productivity applications
and data with local storage. By the same token, it is also
cost effective to purchase PCs with the largest possible drives
in order to reduce the number of storage upgrades that need to
be performed. Investing in future capacity now minimizes
None of this has been lost on the major
manufacturers of PCs for business and small office/home (SOHO)
office use. Leading Quantum OEMs, for example, have been
aggressive in including 6 GB and 8.4 GB capacities in their product
plans for the second half of 1997.
Staying ahead of the curve
In 1993, the average hard drive had a capacity
of 200 MB. Most people who purchased a new PC that year
probably thought that was fairly large. A year and a half
later, most of those drives were 80 percent full (at least 20 percent
of the drive needs to be reserved for the file system) and in
need of replacement. By 1996, the average drive was 1.2
GB. Most of these were 25 percent full when purchased due
to preloaded software. It is likely that most of these drives
will be 80 percent full within 18 months of purchase due
to new software installation, software upgrades, internet downloads,
and data creation. That part of the math hasn't changed.
What has also remained constant is the pain
and hassle of a drive upgrade. The labor costs of an upgrade
are significantly higher than the cost of a new drive. Then
you have to add in the costs of downtime, the stress of the upgrade
and the fear of losing your data. Vendors wanting to avoid
imposing this painful process on their customers need to find
a new storage capacity equation. A new PC with a drive that
is already 25 percent full - particularly in the face of
today's data explosion and the growing user desire to hold
onto PCs a bit longer - is a solution that will neither minimize
total cost of ownership nor maximize customer satisfaction.
Changing the equation to think bigger
Today it is economically and competitively
imperative to specify a hard drive that is 10 percent full
at the very start. This allows the drive to be useful for at least
three years, rather than being ripe for replacement after
only 18 months. This is in line with the elongating lifecycle
trend (3+ years) recently predicted by IDC. In current terms,
this translates to specifying a 6.4 GB drive versus a 2.5
GB drive. Same footprint, not much more incremental cost,
but great cost-of-ownership advantages that can be translated
into higher vendor margins and increased customer satisfaction.
Total Cost of Ownership
Running up the numbers
This view can easily be justified by a look
at historical numbers. Essentially, the growth in hard drive
storage capacity has mirrored the trend for increased computing
power brought about by Intel and Microsoft (figure 4).
PC Technology Growth
We see the curve getting steeper and steeper
over time. But if we look at the growth rate logarithmically
(figure 5), we can see that it has actually been fairly linear
for the last seven years. Projecting that trend line out, we
come to an average hard drive size of 10 GB for new PCs by the
year 2000, with 8 and even 12 GB drives becoming popular
Be 10 GB by the Year 2000
Clearly, vendors that track to this line,
and users that embrace it, stand a much better chance of
staying ahead of the capacity curve than those ignoring the trend.
Meeting the mounting demand
Happily, hard drives are well positioned
to handle mounting capacity requirements. As we've discussed,
average hard drive capacity has been doubling every 18 months
throughout this decade. Meanwhile the cost per megabyte
of storage has dramatically improved each year. These trends
are expected to persist as areal densities (bits per square
inch on the disk's surface) continue to improve, and read channel
technologies continue to advance. At the current rate, 12
GB drives will be a reality by early 1998.
What are some of the technologies that are
making this possible? The key technologies include magnetoresistive
(MR) heads, Partial Response Maximum Likelihood (PRML) read channels
and new design techniques that allow heads to fly closer
to the disk surface. Of these, MR heads are the most significant.
Quantum was the first major desktop hard
drive manufacturer to switch to MR heads to help increase areal
densities. Essentially, as densities increase, the bit patterns
on the disk grow smaller, and the signal generated by the head
subsequently weakens. This, in turn, makes it difficult for the
read channel electronics to identify the bit patterns. MR
heads produce a significantly stronger read signal than traditional
head technologies, thus further opening the door for increased
areal densities. To-date, Quantum has shipped more than five
times as many desktop drives with MR heads than any other HDD
Quantum was also first independent disk
drive company to announce and ship desktop drives with PRML read
channels - to allow closer packing of data transitions on
a disk and provide approximately 40 percent more capacity for
actual user data, compared to traditional peak-detection encoding
schemes. Today, most Quantum drives use PRML read channels, while
PRML is used only in approximately 30 percent of the drives
shipped by the storage industry as a whole. Quantum is now moving
towards implementing even more efficient Extended PRML (EPRML)
read channel technology. EPRML, which performs additional
digital filtering, can provide an additional 10 percent boost
in areal density.
In addition to shipping more desktop drives
with MR heads than any other drive maker, Quantum was also the
first independent supplier to combine MR head and PRML technologies
in a hard drive. While MR heads alone enable dramatically
higher areal densities than older technologies, the combination of
MR and PRML read channels allows even higher densities.
The net result of Quantum's leadership and
innovations in these areas has been twofold:
A leadership position in high-capacity hard drives for the desktop
A leadership position in time-to-market
with new technologies and advantages
Larger programs, the Internet, multimedia
applications and full-motion video are all pushing consumers
towards the largest possible hard drives. Businesses, meanwhile,
are looking to larger capacity drives to further enhance
user performance. At the same time, both home PC and business
PC buyers now expect their computers to last at least three
years, and are anxious to avoid the pain and hassle of a hard
drive upgrade during their PC's full lifecycle.
Fortunately, if they make the right moves,
PC vendors can stay ahead of the rapidly mounting capacity
curve. Technology enhancements have made high-capacity hard
drives both feasible and affordable. And, as Quantum's focus
has always been to "think bigger," the company's leadership
in key capacity-enabling technologies will help its customers
be the first to market with the 8, 10, 12 and higher GB drives
that the market will require over the next few years.
There's no excuse for being taken by surprise
when it comes to storage capacity. The road markers are
clear. The only answer is to Think Bigger. Bigger capacities
mean bigger possibilities and, ultimately, more satisfied customers