Seagate Sees Future in Application-Specific Drives

[qi:027] The hard disk drive is the Rodney Dangerfield of the technology industry: can’t get no respect. Despite being the key ingredient of everything from fat iPods to notebook computers and digital video recorders, the HDD business is treated with faint disdain.

Bill Watkins, the colorful and plain-talking chief executive office of Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Seagate Technology (SEG) knows it all too well, and is doing his best to overcome the commodity challenge. As a guest of the debut episode of The GigaOM Show he lamented the kamikaze tactics of his overseas rivals and lack of profits in the business.

He acknowledged that everyone could learn from Apple (AAPL) and offer a better user experience as a differentiator for the commodity technology products. The next time I saw him, he was busy showing off his company’s efforts at a recent meet-and-greet event for the media. [digg=]
Seagate is launching a major refresh of its consumer disk drives (some up to a terabyte (TB) in capacity). including a 60 GB drive for the D.A.V.E. (Digital Audio Video Experience) technology platform.

D.A.V.E is supposed to work in tandem with mobile devices via Bluetooth or WiFi giving additional capacity to everything from mobile phones, video cameras and even portable media players. Watkins argues this new platform will allow mobile devices to get capacity at an affordable price point.

However, the most exciting aspect of the new technology refresh launched by Seagate are two drives: one designed specifically for digital video recorders and another for surveillance gear. “Most people confuse that drive is a drive,” said Watkins. “But the environments they work in are different.”

This is an opportunity for Seagate, he claims, because they can optimize the software (inside the drives), and tweak the drive components to meet “application-specific needs.” DVR drives, for instance, need to be quiet and have to be able to perform in an environment where the system is giving off a lot of heat. The surveillance specific drives, Watkins points out, have different needs, such as ability to handle multiple video streams and high capacities.

Over next few years, he believes that the disk drive industry is going to have to get more specific in how it puts together drives. Seagate is committing a lot of R&D dollars towards this end, and has built up an army of software coders whose job is to optimize the firmware software inside the drives to meet specific demands of a device or an application.

With the volumes of digital devices – DVRs and media centers, for example – hitting millions, it is now economically viable for Seagate (and others) to do semi-bespoke drives. And maybe that is what it would take for the industry to get some respect.

What Seagate Announced:
* Maxtor OneTouch family of drives get a new look.
* The first 1TB desktop PC hard drive with hardware based full-disc encryption (FDE)
* Seagate D.A.V.E.™ technology platform with up to 60GB of wireless storage
* 250GB 2.5-inch notebook hard drive for rugged mobile computing
* 1TB hard drive for High Definition DVRs and home media centers
* 1TB hard drive for surveillance DVRs, and
* A 450GB 15K-rpm Enterprise drive