Form over function
Even as drive makers jigger the interface, they are hard at work shrinking the drive enclosures. Seagate recently launched its Savvio line of small form factor enterprise-class drives based on a 2.5-inch package. The size reduction from current 3.5-inch designs offers a host of benefits, including a smaller footprint, lower power consumption and heat output and reduced acoustic and vibration levels. Later this year, expect to see 10K rpms 2.5-inch drives. The wait for 15K rpms high-performance 2.5-inch drives will extend at least into 2006 and possibly later.
Brian Kraus, senior global marketing manager at Seagate, says the smaller drives allow 1U servers to hold a complete, four-disk RAID 5 array, with redundant disks dedicated to data and to the operating system. By contrast, 3.5-inch drives require a 3U server design to provide the same capability.
Both Maxtor and Seagate have announced 2.5-inch form factor drives, with production models expected to reach the market in the second half of 2004. Initial designs will be relegated to DAS, while array makers such as EMC and HDS mull the significant costs of reengineering cabinets and plumbing for the new drives.
Joe DeRosa, senior director of enterprise storage marketing for Maxtor, expects that small form factor drives will make headway in the market in 2005, with measurable volumes occurring in 2006. Once the small form factor tide turns, the switchover should happen fast. Gartner Inc. projects that that by 2007, 2.5-inch form factor drives will lead enterprise sales.
The smaller drives could enable new breeds of disk-based storage. ESG's Kenniston sees a future where companies can buy sealed 2U boxes with multiple terabytes of storage, which can be plugged into a SATA or other connections. The result is truly commoditized disk storage that can serve anything short of critical applications.
For example, SpectraLogic sells a 12-disk cartridge that plugs directly into the company's Spectra T950 tape library. A Spectra RXT cartridge can hold up to 1TB of RAID-protected data, for fast, virtual tape library functionality. It's an approach that could gain momentum as enterprise-ready, 2.5-inch form factor drives hit the market at reasonable price points.
Recommendation: Small form factor drives are an exciting development, but the early premium charged for these products will hinder proliferation. Until prices for 2.5-inch models drop--probably in 2006--most shops will find themselves well served by the traditional 3.5-inch form factor offerings.Click here for Page Five