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Future Looks Hazy For Enterprise Drives

Enterprise disk drive manufacturers Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) and Fujitsu flooded the industry with new product announcements recently. Both announced 300GB drives spinning at 10,000 rpms: HGST's UltraStar 10K300 and Fujitsu's MAT300. Fujitsu also introduced a new 15,000 rpm drive, the MAU, which at 147GB has twice the capacity of previous generation 15K drives. Other manufacturers have similar drives on their road maps, says David Reinsel, research manager for disk drives at IDC.

But for all this, the future of these drives is far from certain. The 300GB drive, in particular, is probably the largest enterprise drive we'll see for a long time. "Putting more than 300GB on a spindle really opens you up to a lot of risk," says Reinsel, referring to drives' hard error rate--the number of bits a drive can process before experiencing an error.

The 15,000 rpm 147GB drive is probably a better fit into existing external storage systems, he says, where they will complement the 15K 36GB and 74GB drives already in use. But going forward, performance-centric storage subsystems will probably come with 2.5-inch 10,000 rpm drives such as Seagate's recently announced Savvio, whose smaller footprint allows you to pack in more spindles in a given space.

What about Serial ATA drives? Western Digital's (WD) 36GB and 74GB Raptor drive, for example, spins at 10,000 rpms, and has the same or better reliability and performance ratings as comparable SCSI drives, says Hubbert Smith, WD director of enterprise marketing. Its mean time between failure (MTBF) rating is 1.2 million hours--the same as SCSI drives, while the 74GB model boasts 4.5ms average seek time--a hair faster than the 4.7ms spec found on Seagate's 10,000 rpm Cheetah model. Raptor costs about 30% less than comparable SCSI drives.

But today, WD is the only supplier to offer a 10,000 rpm SATA drive, which prevents top-tier providers from offering the drive in their systems, Reinsel says. So far, WD's Raptor has found a home with some channel players, and in high-end gaming PCs.

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