As demand for mobile data storage keeps rising, the hard drive industry needs to work harder at adapting its technology and products to keep pace. spoke to Daniel Mauerhofer, of storage giant Western Digital, to find out more about this evolving market.

Desktop computing remains the largest market for hard drives but the young upstart – consumer electronics – is the fastest growing.

Demand for data storage is soaring in everything from PDAs, navigation systems and automotive applications to handheld devices that store music, books, news content, movies and television programs.

In parallel with this is the need for portable data collection devices, something storage giant Western Digital (WD) has been quick to pick up on.

It recently launched My Passport, a 500 GB capacity portable USB drive that is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Not so long ago it would have been inconceiveable to imagine how most consumers would use that amount of storage capacity – let alone in a mobile format.

Yet Daniel Mauerhofer, senior PR manager EMEA for WD, said that since storage space was now quickly eaten up by even modest amounts of photo, video and music files, finding a use for half a Terabyte of storage wasn’t that difficult.

He said the advent of compact cameras with the capacity for ever-larger resolution meant even just storing photographs required a great deal of memory space.

“There’s no such thing as too much storage these days,” he said.

WD was founded in Lake Forest, California in 1970 and has been manufacturing internal hard drives since 1990. It moved into the external drive market four years ago.

While its principal markets – desktop and notebook computing – are expected to continue growing strongly, the launch of the My Passport portable series positions it strongly in the consumer electronics sector.

This hard drive market, which today accounts for sales of 81 million units worth more than USD $6 billion, is expected to grow to 220 million units in 2010 – a compound annual growth rate of 29 per cent.

Mauerhofer said external drives generated very little revenue for WD three years ago.

“Now they represent a fifth of our turnover. It’s a billion dollar business now,” he said. “People are spending considerable time on the internet and its penetration is getting better, so people are downloading more and more. We do not see that stopping.”

For this reason, the consumer rather than corporate user is seen as being the principal buyer of My Passport portable drives.

This is borne out by the sleek design and color choices for the drives – a far step from the customary image of external drives as functional “blocks”.

Technology is evolving to cope with the ever-increasing demand for portable storage

Mauerhofer said the industry currently used Perpindicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), which still had potential for greater capacity.
So much so that he predicted that within the next 18 months a 1 Terabyte storage drive would become available.

“There is a big need in the B2B enterprise space for huge capacity coupled with small form factor and it’s a safe bet to say you will find them in our portable products as well,” he said.

However, Mauerhofer said there would come a point when even the PMR technology reached a capacity limit. This would open up the market to replacement technology such as Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording.

The consumers’ appetite for storage appears insatiable – but technology has managed to keep ahead of the game. Can it continue to do so?

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