Demand for storage is stronger than ever as, in addition to growing user-generated data, machine-generated data now requires a formidable amount of storage space and will need even more in the future as the number of connected devices increases. Since the bulk of data continues to be stored on hard drives, it is not surprising that the third quarter was particularly successful for HDD makers, which despite the dent that flash sales are making, still set a record in terms of total shipped capacity.

Record 240 EB Shipped

The combined capacity of all of the hard drives sold by Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital in the third quarter totaled a whopping 240 exabytes (EB), of which 140 EB were nearline HDDs, according to TrendFocus. To put the number into perspective: the combined capacity of all HDDs and SSDs shipped last year was 912 EB and, today we are talking only about hard drives in one quarter. In fact, even when compared to Q2’s 207.5 EB, this is still 15% growth.

Market observers are attributing the significant rise in shipping HDD capacity to increasing shipments of enterprise-class nearline 14 TB, 15 TB, and 16 TB hard drives, which by now have been qualified by a substantial number of companies. For example, the average capacity of Seagate’s enterprise HDD (mission critical + nearline drives) was 6.3 TB in Q3 2019, up from 5.2 TB in the same period last year. By contrast, the average capacity of Seagate’s client hard drives was at 1.2 TB (unchanged from Q3 2018), as the bulk of such drives are intended for notebooks and their capacities range from 500 GB to 1 TB.  In terms of units shipped, client and consumer electronics HDDs by far outsell enterprise and nearline drives, so, the average capacity of a Seagate HDD is 2.9 TB, up from 2.5 TB a year ago.

Unit Shipments Down

When it comes to total unit shipments however, not everything is quite as rosy, based on data from TrendFocus. The three manufacturers sold 83 million HDDs in the third quarter, up from 78.6 million in Q2 and 78 million in Q1, but down from around 88 million in the same quarter of 2018. In fact HDD sales have been in decline for a long time. Nidec, a Japanese motor manufacturer who is responsible for around 85% of all HDD spindle motors, said earlier this year that unit sales of hard drives had declined by around 43% from 2010 to 2018, going from around 650 million units in 2010 to 375 million units in 2018. Based on Nidec's forecast, HDD shipments will drop to 309 million drives in 2019, which will further drop to 290 million units in 2020.

Market Shares

When it comes to market shares in Q3 2019, Seagate was leading the pack with a 40.2% share, Western Digital followed with 35.4%, whereas Toshiba trailed with 24.4% of HDD unit shipments.

For readers interested to learn more about Seagate’s and Western Digital’s HDD businesses today, we included some supplementary information below.

Related Reading:

Sources: StorageNewsletter/TrendFocus, Seagate, Western Digital



View All Comments

  • azfacea - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    You are money is on "NEVER" my money is on way sooner than ppl think. one of us is going to lose money buy its not me.

    You fail to understand just how significant losing 50% volume is -- in a market that has grown an order magnitude no less --

    700 million units down to 300 million units and this happened in the time frame where most of the world (china, india, BRICS ....) got online. never mind cell phone revolution, explosion of content, data science, ai ...

    you keep repeating the same gobbly goo about enterprise this, margins that .... where the reality is that the fundamentals will decide this. not profit margins for your false and biased selection of this product or that product.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    For the HDD makers themselves the entry level capacity drives in laptop/desktop systems that are largely gone were a very low margin business. Losing them didn't impact profitability or R&D budgets much *. The big hit they've taken on profit has been the withering of the 10/15k RPM SAS segment. They used to make a lot of money on those drives, but SSDs have largely eaten it. This may have pushed up prices on bulk storage drives as they try to get their profits from data center customers via different product lines.

    * Some component makers, particularly those that sold one part per drive regardless of if it was a single platter drive or a 5 platter one probably took a bigger hit. For the HDD makers themselves the impact's largely limited to costs from reducing their assembly floor area. The decline was slow enough that a lot of other impacts were largely contained by attrition as old hardware wasn't replaced at end of life.
  • azfacea - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    fair points. but doesnt refute what i said.

    loss of high margin assets to ssd, loss of low margin assets. deteriorating supply chains, war of attrition to survive. all of this is bad for HDD, worst yet to come.

    at the same time WD at least is using their revenue to re-invent themselves as storage company of the future. not exactly the same commitment to R & D they had 10 years ago.

    HDD endgame is inevitable and coming soon
  • Kjella - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    With only marginal differences the price of SSDs is linear with capacity, because they need to use twice as many chips. There's no inherent savings in shipping one 8TB SSD over eight 1TB SSDs. The only reason datacenter drives are more expensive are the IOPS/redundancy/endurance requirements. Reply
  • waterdog - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    Spinning disks will be with us until SSD technology can accommodate long term dead storage. Once that happens, I can see the spinning disks disappearing very rapidly.

    On to a more important question: The banner graphic at the top of the article suggests that disk drives are made from the blood or souls of the damned. Is this accurate?
  • Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    I believe that impression is, in fact, correct. That's what the noise they make when they're running comes from, the souls wailing to get out. Reply
  • SirMaster - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    And people keep trying to tell me that HDDs are dying...

    I've been saying nope to that forever. The world is storing more and more data than ever before and larger and larger files. HDD is still the best medium for most of that storage still and will be for a while yet.
  • flyingpants265 - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    Amazingly, there are only about 50,000 western movies. You can store all of them in 1GB quality at 50,000GB. That's only 4 hard drives!

    Last I checked the Netflix database was only about 5000 movies or so, so you can create a pretty decent movie collection with only 1 hard drive. TV of course is another story altogether.
  • Smartcom5 - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    I'm curious, what comes after Exabyte? Zettabyte and then Yottabyte, right?
    … and then? Are we running out of numbers anytime soon?

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