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Drive Vendors Think Small

Seagate's incredible shrinking disk

Starting as early as next year, disk drives based on a 2.5-inch form factor will be the drive of choice for performance-hungry environments.

Seagate says it will announce its new small form factor (SFF) drive this fall, which will have a spin speed of 10K rmps and areal density on par with today's 15K disk drives. But because so many more drives can be squeezed into a given rack space, these drives deliver a performance density of 240% over 10K 3.5-inch models. Performance density refers to the number of IOPS you can achieve within a given physical space.

For example, consider a standard 3U rack that houses 14 drives today--with SFF drives, you'll be able to put 30 drives in 2U, says Brian Kraus, Seagate senior marketing manager. In addition, smaller drives draw about 40% less power than their 3.5-inch counterparts, and therefore generate less heat. It stands to reason, therefore, that "these will be the drives of choice in environments where high-end performance and space are the driving metrics," Kraus says.

Dropping disk drives down in size is an easier way to eke out more performance than the alternative--increasing the rpms, says Stephen DiFranco, Maxtor's vice president of worldwide corporate and brand marketing. Thus far, that approach has proved to be "a challenging experiment," DiFranco says.

David Reinsel, research manager at IDC, agrees that shrinking the disk drive makes more sense than upping the spin speed. "Going to 22K has never made sense in terms of the power involved." Reinsel adds that plans for enterprise-class 2.5-inch drives "aren't absent from any road map I've seen."

That's the case at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST), which already manufactures notebook-class 2.5-inch drives, and recently announced a 7,200 rpm speed model. Enterprise-class 10,000 rpm models are expected out in 2004, according to Dave Archer, HGST deputy general manager, to coincide with the advent of serial-attached SCSI (SAS) drive interface technology. The generation of SFF drives Seagate is delivering, meanwhile, will not find their way into laptops, says Seagate's Kraus, if only because they are too tall.

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