Fewer disk units shipped in Q4 ’21 as nearline rises

There were fewer disk drives shipped in 2021’s last quarter than a year ago, but the nearline segment saw a 38 per cent unit ship rise.

Approximately 64 million drives were shipped in the quarter, according to preliminary numbers from research house TrendFocus — a 9 per cent year-on-year fall. Within that number about 18.5 million nearline (3.5-inch high-capacity) drives were shipped — up 38 per cent from a year ago (13.39 million). 

There was a quarter-on-quarter decline in nearline disk ship units, with 19.75 million being shipped in Q3 2021 but Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers thinks it was due to supply chain issues affecting shipments to hyperscalers and some softening of demand in China, not an overall market slowdown.

Rakers estimates that nearline drive capacity shipped in the quarter was between 235 and 240EB, meaning a 60 per cent year-on-year increase, due to the average capacity per drive increasing. We saw 16 and  18TB drives shipping in 2021.

He says there was no significant change in vendor ship market share. Seagate shipped some 27.2 to 27.7 million drives in the quarter, giving it a near 43 per cent market share. Western Digital was next, with 23.5 to 24 million drives shipped and a near 37 per cent share. Toshiba had a 20 per cent share, having shipped 12.7 to 13 million drives.

The chart of disk drive segment revenue shares above shows a sawtooth liners in nearline drives, and also an unexpected rising trend in mission-critical enterprise drives (2.5-inch 10,000rpm – blue line) over the year. In general 2.5-inch mobile and branded drives and 3.5-inch PC and branded drives continued their decline as SSDs take over their data storage role. That takeover seems to be slowing down as a rump of customers prefer disk capacity and lower price than SSD’s speed at a higher cost.