WD and Seagate in 18TB disk drive drag race

Western Digital was late to market with 16TB Ultrastar nearline disk drives, gifting Seagate an opportunity for its 16TB Exos drives. The arch-rivals are now in a race to see who can ramp 18TB drive manufacturing faster and ship the most drives to customers this year.

Enterprise nearline drives with 10TB or more capacity are the biggest disk drive category by revenue. They are used by businesses to store the ever- growing volume of unstructured data from their operations.

In response to data volumes, Seagate, WD and their smaller rival Toshiba, are constantly developing higher capacity drives to retain and gain market share.

The nearline capacity sweet spot in mid-2018 was 14TB, as represented by the 14TB Seagate Exos and the 14TB WD Ultrastar.

Seagate’s 16TB market opportunity

In June 2019 Seagate announced it was shipping a 16TB Exos drive. And in November the company boasted of the fastest product ramp in its history for this type of drive.

WD announced the Ultrastar HC550 16TB and 18TB nearline drives in September 2019, using its ePMR technology, but units became generally available only last month – some 11 months after Seagate’s 16TB Exos. The delay meant WD lost significant shipment capacity market share.

In May 2020, WD’s first quarter 2020 results prompted Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers to suggest to CEO David Goeckler: “It looks like you definitely kind of underperformed some of your peers on nearline” – i.e., Seagate and Toshiba. Goeckler did not deny it.

This month, Rakers estimated Seagate shipped 79.5 EB of nearline capacity drives in the second 2020 calendar quarter, ahead of WD’s 76 EB, and maintaining its 16TB ship share advantage.

18TB race

in an effort to catch up, WD said this month it will boost 18TB drive production to one million units in the fourth 2020 quarter, amounting to 18EB of capacity.

But Seagate started shipping 18TB Exos drives to selected customers in June, with a manufacturing ramp beginning by year-end. It has not yet released any 18TB drive ship numbers, at time of writing.

A 20TB Seagate drive using its HAMR (Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording) should also start shipping before the end of the year. Blocks & Files expects WD to announce ship dates for its 20TB MAMR drive by then. The nearline capacity race goes on.