If you want to know what the future of hard drives holds, the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium is probably a good place to start. Otherwise known as the ASTC, the group was founded by a collection of industry heavyweights that includes HGST, Seagate, and WD. It's billed as a "forum for collaborative joint R&D efforts," giving its projections credible weight.
According to the ATSC's latest roadmap, mechanical storage densities will increase at an accelerated rate starting in a few years, when heat-assisted and bit-patterned recording kick into gear. The good times will supposedly continue until at least 2025, when areal densities should be high enough to enable 100TB hard drives.
Right now, we're in perpendicular territory, with areal densities under 1Tb/in². Shingled magnetic recording has already appeared in datacenter drives optimized for cold storage. Along with two-dimensional recording, a similar and potentially complementary approach, shingled tech looks poised to drive density scaling until at least 2017. That's when heat-assisted hotness is slated to take over, the crystal ball says.
If the ASTC's projections are accurate, heat-assisted and bit-patterned recording will combine around 2021, pushing areal densities up to 10Tb/in² by 2025. In a four-platter consumer unit like Seagate's Desktop HDD.15 4TB, which packs only 625Gb/in², that density would theoretically fuel 64TB of storage. Well over 100TB would be possible with a seven-platter monster like HGST's enterprise-oriented Ultrastar He8.
Now, the ASTC's members won't necessarily hit all of their targets—a lot can happen over the course of a decade. But this is the plan as it stands right now. Kudos to Forbes contributor Tom Coughlin for being the first to publish the roadmap.