Small disks, big specs


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Disk drives are getting faster, smaller and can hold more data. And the price per GB continues to drop.

The hard disk drive is suddenly hot. The technology, which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2006 and has been the mainstay of enterprise storage for decades, is now on the cusp of big changes that will affect enterprise storage for years to come.

"Two things make hard disk a big deal right now: serial-attached SCSI [SAS] and the shift to the 2.5-inch form factor," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), Boulder, CO. But those are just the most apparent changes that are percolating.

Some of the changes aren't new, like the steady increase in the capacities of hard disk drives (HDDs), which continue to grow by approximately 40% a year. But other developments like the 6Gb/sec speed of the new SAS interface may prove game changing, especially when it migrates from the drive itself to the storage array. Still others like encryption on the disk, the potential to spin disks up and down to conserve energy, long-block (4K) error correction and object-based disk, which promises the ability to use meta data about the stored content, won't have much impact in the short term, but they're swiftly moving out of development labs and into products.

The 2.5-inch server drives have just started to ship, and Dell Inc. is

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using them in its new PowerVault MD1120, which can house up to 144 drives in 12U of rack space.

The 6Gb/sec SAS drive interfaces are still being certified and, again, it will take time before the arrays come equipped with comparable interfaces. But with demand for storage capacity and performance steadily increasing and pressure to contain energy costs mounting, the latest HDD developments will give storage managers a lot to think about over the next six months to 18 months.

"We're pretty content with what we have for disk right now. If we hit a bottleneck, we'd certainly look at the new things," says Reid Watanabe, program manager at Hawaiian Electric Company Inc. in Honolulu. Watanabe oversees the company's 40TB to 50TB of disk storage and recently added several Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. Storage Works EVA 8000 arrays. As the HDD enhancements roll out over the coming months, storage managers like Watanabe will begin cherry-picking those that address their issues.

This was first published in September 2008

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