Western Digital eyes growing storage needs

by Kiran Bajad 16 Jun 2018

With cars turning computers on wheels and becoming an extension of their owners' need to be connected 24/7 with access to rich graphics and advanced telematics, high-capacity storage solutions are de rigueur.

As vehicles, particularly passenger cars, become computers on wheels and a reflection of their owner's personalities, they also become more demanding in terms of electronics content which has to be stored in compact SD (standard definition) cards. In today's 24/7 connected world and vehicles spending more and more time in traffic, vehicle occupants are demanding top-notch connectivity levels. This is resulting in robust demand for HD/3D maps, rich graphics and advanced sensors, which in turn calls for automotive OEMs and Tier I suppliers to employ high-capacity and efficiently managed storage solutions. Western Digital Corporation (WDC), the US-based computer data storage company and one of the largest computer hard disk drive manufacturers in the world, is eyeing the growing demand for storage solutions in India's automotive market.


Rich graphics content across both four- and two-wheelers needs robust and high-on-memory SD cards. 

As connectivity and a high level of data storage become a critical component in next-generation cars, WDC is partnering with customers to develop an in-car system with cost-effective solutions.  Its robust SD cards offer reliability, traceability, and removability allowing production line flexibility as well as ease of updating and accessing data for infotainment, navigation application, data logging and collection applications. The company controls all the critical steps of the design and production process. This, the company says, is a result of industry-leading quality and technology with over 30 years of storage innovation and over 5,000 patents.

India, which has just closed FY2018 on a high note, is seeing burgeoning demand for data storage in the automotive industry, which is why WDC is now engaging strongly with India Auto Inc, both vehicle manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers. Speaking to Autocar Professional, Vivek Tyagi, director, Sales - India Region at Western Digital Corporation, said, “I think we will play a bigger role in the automotive industry in the next five years than we did in the past five years. The need for storage is increasing rapidly due to use of various applications in the cars.”

Growing demand for data and speed

The past decade has seen the electronic modules inside a car or ECM (Engine Control Units) use microcontrollers, which already had a tiny amount of flash inside them; at the time that was sufficient to run the program without any external flash. The body control unit also had half a megabyte of flash which sufficed for the OEM's needs. Likewise, the braking system and electronic power steering had their own tiny flash. There were no modules back then that required very large data to be stored. But now, with navigation, infotainments with Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones and streaming videos have amplified the need for storage inside cars.


Vivek Tyagi: "Navigation, infotainment, and telematics are all consumer-centric in the car. The consumer wants the same experience he gets at home while watching smart TV or  when using the smartphone."

Further, with every generation, the capacity of a storage device is increasing. A couple of years ago, storage capacity required in one device was 4 gigabytes – this has doubled to 8 gigabytes and going forward this will easily upscale to 16 gigabytes. “Globally, we are working with OEMs and Tier 1s for multiple designs in the field of navigation and infotainment. We also educating OEMs on the various solutions we are working,” says Tyagi.

A prime example of a heavily connected car is that of Tesla, whose electric cars do not need to visit a service centre more than once in an entire year. Tesla has an operating system update – software to improve the mileage of the car, or any navigation update, a new version of maps. All Teslas are installed with a 4G GSM module which is connected to its core data centre. They push an update through the GSM network, like in a phone. In this kind of scenario, more and more software is getting pushed. Hence, there is a demand for storage.

Also in markets like Korea, the insurance company has put a mandate that the customer should install a camera on the dashboard of the car that faces outside the road. This camera constantly records video and stores it for 24 hours. In case there is a dispute regarding an accident, they play the video recorded for reference and clarify the case. It is a completely new application and in this case there a need for several gigabytes of storage.

India promise

The scene of all R&D activity for WDC is its semiconductor lab in Japan where all raw materials get prepared. The final test and assembling is done in Malaysia and Shanghai. While the automotive grade product is released out of Shanghai, the data centre is housed in Malaysia. In India, WDC has its global R&D centre in Bangalore where 1,200 engineers work on design and testing of removable storage products.


All Tesla cars have a 4G GSM module connected to the company's core data centre. They push an update through the GSM network, like in a phone, but which calls for considerable storage capacity. 

Speaking on the growth opportunities in India, Tyagi says, “We are working with several automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to help them with our storage solutions. India customers are open to new ideas and for using higher storage solutions for cars as Indian car owners are increasingly tech-savvy.”

In India, the company is promoting two types of storage solutions – embedded storage and removal storage. Embedded storage solutions are ideal for the storage solution for various applications including navigation, infotainment systems, ADAS, HD mapping, V2V-V2I communication, digital clusters, autonomous drive and telematics. Removable storage solution in 8-64 GB capacity is suitable for storage of maps, data catching, data logging, security backup. The company sees greater traction in both the areas in the Indian automotive space.   

In the past, global Tier 1 suppliers in India were more focused on engine control and body control, instrument cluster type of application. These applications, once done, stay for a long time. The features do not change very often until the new emission norms come into the picture. However, this is changing rapidly in the consumer-facing areas.

“Navigation, infotainment, and telematics are all consumer-centric in the car. The consumer wants the same experience he gets at home while watching smart TV or using the smartphone. Therefore, all the global Tier 1s now have a significantly large team in the entertainment or navigation side of the car. A lot of designs are being done on locally and that is why we have opportunities to engage with them in our storage solutions. The company is working with one local OEM in India,” says Tyagi.

As it looks, Western Digital, with its broad partnerships across the ecosystem, critical parts validated on major chipsets, all supporting shorter time to markets with reliability and performance, is taking the right steps to penetrate the Indian auto industry.


(This article was first published in the May 15, 2018 issue of Autocar Professional)