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Small disks, big specs

Ezine

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Fibre Channel (FC) vs. SAS
"Parallel SCSI is at end of life," declares Black. Vendors have begun winding down conventional SCSI products in favor of SAS. The advent of 6Gb/sec SAS, also referred to as SAS 2 or wide SAS, dramatically changes the competitive landscape. At 3Gb/sec, SAS lagged FC's 4Gb/sec performance. "At 6Gb/sec, SAS is going to cannibalize FC market share pretty quickly," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, a research firm in Stillwater, MN.

Hawaiian Electric isn't ready to abandon FC. The organization's Watanabe is comfortable with the performance and reliability of FC for now, but "something like 6Gb/sec SAS might get us to rethink FC," he says. It won't be the only company rethinking the situation. Market research firms Gartner Inc. and IDC see a strong shift from FC to SAS. IDC, for example, predicts that shipments of small form-factor enterprise drives going into enterprise solutions will outnumber 3.5-inch enterprise drive shipments by 2010.


Error protection and encryption
Rounding out the list of upcoming HDD goodies are drive-based encryption and enhanced error protection. Further out is object-based HDD.

"Encryption built into the drive will be a huge thing," predicts Joel Weiss, president at the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA), a Milpitas, CA-based trade

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association for HDD makers. Ironically, drive-based encryption may be most appealing when the drive reaches end-of-life and gets retired. Vendors report amazement at the amount of data left intact on returned disks. With on-drive encryption that concern goes away; as soon as the drive is separated from the key, the data becomes unreadable. Seagate already offers an enterprise drive with encryption, and it's emerging as a must-have for laptop disk drives (see "Notebook storage," below).


Notebook storage
With newspaper reports of laptops disappearing regularly, disk encryption has emerged as a key feature of notebook drives. The current hard disk drive (HDD) standard for laptops is 2.5-inch SATA with some vendors pushing capacity as high as 500GB.

At one time, a 1-inch HDD was touted for laptops, but no longer. "The 1-inch drive is dead, given up to solid-state disk [SSD]," says Joel Weiss, president at the International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA) in Milpitas, CA.

But SSD isn't making much progress either. "Hardly anybody is using SSD [in their notebooks] and those that do are disappointed," says Avi Cohen, managing partner and head of research at Avian Securities LLC, a Boston-based research company. SSD makes minimal impact on battery life, maybe 5% to 7% savings, for a $900 price premium. There are also problems making an SSD's MLC NAND work correctly.

"Wear leveling doesn't make sense on a small amount of SSD. You need at least 200GB, and that's too expensive," adds Cohen. So at least for another year or two the 2.5-inch HDD will continue to reign in the laptop/notebook market.

This was first published in September 2008

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