Serial ATA: Here, now

Is Serial ATA ready for the big leagues?

Serial ATA (SATA), a rejuvenation of tried and true parallel ATA interconnection (IDE) technology, is poised to make changes that will be subtle and perhaps not so subtle in enterprise storage. While traditional ATA is part of almost every desktop computer, it has been excluded from enterprise applications by its relatively low reliability and interconnection difficulties.

Mike Kahn with the Clipper Group, a technology analyst and advisory company in Wellesley, Mass., explains that SATA is focused on lowering costs. "We aren't talking about reaching the performance or reliability of a Fibre Channel drive but rather at something better than today's ATA drives," he says. Put another way, SATA aims to provide storage that's pretty darn good -- at a compelling price point. "So this will be seen as a new class of storage," adds Kahn.

Stan Skelton, Director of Strategic Planning at LSI Logic, says SATA has tremendous promise in providing storage for non-mission-critical data in networked storage. According to Skelton SATA applications may include: intermediate storage (near term repository for data on its way to eventually being archived to tape; "target" storage for copy services (snapshot repository, destination for remote volume mirroring, electronic vaulting); tiered storage for applications that desire storage with varying performance, availability, and cost characteristics; and, low cost, entry-level SANs (especially when coupled with iSCSI).

Skelton advises Storage pros that SATA's perceived deficiencies (lower MTBF, poor rotational vibration characteristics) will be masked from the end users. Storage pros should also ensure that SATA technology is targeted at applications that best match its attributes. These include bandwidth oriented, low cost,non-mission critical (initially) applications. By first implementing SATA in these environments, it will prove if and/or when SATA technology can be moved into more mission-critical, 24x7 environments.

Mike Cush, Chief Technology Officer at value added storage reseller Adexis Storage, says depending on where the costing, MTBFs, and other reliability issues shake out will most likely invade most array enclosures as a replacement to SCSI and FC disk. "With everyone today in business striving for cost reductions, Serial ATA can be a great way to reduce raw material costs," he says. At Intel, which got the ball rolling on SATA when it kicked off the SATA working group in early 2000, Jason Ziller says the roadmap for SATA provides plenty of room to grow. The group released its specification in the fall of 2001 providing the basis for the industry to develop the range of products now starting to hit the market. Ziller says Serial ATA will have initial transfer rates of up to 1.5Gb/sec. Serial ATA II, arriving in 2004 will have 300MB/s of bandwidth, growing to 600MB/s around 2007 with SATA III. Summarizing, John Webster, founder and analyst of Data Mobility Group, Nashua, NH, says SATA ranks in importance somewhere between "earth shattering and just another incremental improvement." "It could get big right away but more likely it will take some time to ramp up," he added.

For more information:

Expert advice: ATA vs. SCSI

Featured article: Serial ATA hard drives are coming, but when and where will they fit in?

Expert advice: Using ATA and RAID controllers


  • Alan Earls often writes about things NAS and SAN the "SAN/NAS Update: Trends" column. View the latest
  • About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.


    This was first published in January 2003

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