The increased number of drive technologies targeting the middle of the enterprise drive market reflects a significant crossover of product categories that began in 2003. The arrival of the first so-called "Enterprise ATA" drives from Maxtor and Western Digital has kicked off a mingling of drive types, and the trend shows no signs of abating through the end of 2005.
The second-half of 2004 should see significant sales of enterprise ATA drives, with large volumes going into nearline and emulated tape storage solutions. These ATA drives typically offer mean time between failure (MTBF) numbers close to one million hours--significantly higher than desktop-rated ATA drives.
Driving the trend are continuing improvements in reliability from ATA-based products--improvements that could shake up vendor product lines, says ESG's Kenniston. "Over the next 12 to 18 months, the quality of ATA will get significantly better and it will be driving increased sales," says Kenniston, adding that "vendors are often more scared about positioning--why is the 2.5 times the cost for Fibre Channel worth it?"
It's a good question, and one that Hewlett-Packard Co. recently sought to answer when it announced a new class of Fibre Channel-based drives called Fibre-Attached Technology Adapted (FATA). FATA drives offer native Fibre Channel protocol operation--enabling enterprise customers to standardize on a single storage architecture, while delivering significantly reduced costs. Yankee Group's Balaouras expects that FATA-based drives could be priced about 30% below those of similar capacity Fibre Channel drives and will offer capacity up to 250GB with a dual-port, 2GB/s, Fibre Channel interface.
Recommendation: If you're standardized on Fibre Channel now, FATA can help keep the environment simple while offering good reliability and performance. Mixed environments can benefit from the improving reliability of enterprise ATA drives.