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Mobile drive tech could move into data center

Significant disk-drive enhancements, announced by Seagate and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, will likely please notebook buyers next year, and the new disk technologies they'll enjoy could eventually trickle up to enterprise-class storage. But if you're a storage shop manager, don't hold your breath--some insiders say the advancements may take more than a year to appear.

At the end of October, Seagate announced DriveTrust, a technology platform for deploying security features on hard disk drives. Seagate's Momentus 5400 FDE.2, the first DriveTrust-enabled disk drive for notebook computers, will be available early in Q1 2007. And in early November, Hitachi announced that it will add two 2.5-inch drives to its Travelstar notebook line next year, offering 200GB and approximately 250GB in capacity, also with hard-disk encryption.

While these vendors consider how these advancements might unfold in the enterprise, the idea of high-capacity 2.5-inch drives or disk-based encryption making its way into corporate-class storage evokes both enthusiasm and caution.

Andrew Reichman, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, MA, thinks moving to smaller drives could disrupt another key storage trend, that of mixing serial-attached SCSI (SAS) and SATA drives in the same cabinet. "Any movement away from standardization--which in early adoption you'd have to see that small form factors would be--would hurt intermix capability," says Reichman.

Others think the performance boost that the smaller form factor promises is too alluring to ignore. "What you're looking for is being able to take lots of small 2.5-inch drives [and to] put them into a server storage where you get lots of spindles," says Henry Fabian, Seagate's executive director of product marketing. "That allows people with RAIDed systems to get really high performance spread across a lot of disks."

Better performance appeals to Joel Kulesa, a SAN architect at The Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In the high-performance space, says Kulesa, "if you can get 2.5-inch 10K drives at similar or better response times as you can 3.5-inch [drives], it seems like a slam-dunk win." When it comes to hard-disk encryption, however, he's more doubtful. "I don't think too many people care whether the encryption happens on the physical drive or elsewhere, as long as it happens," he says.

Scott Shimomura, senior product marketing manager at Seagate, says he sees interest in DriveTrust apps beyond the notebook. "Every time I've been out presenting or talking with end users, the conversation normally turns to 'When are you going to introduce this for desktops and storage systems?'" he says.

With the encryption market encompassing a host of software, appliance and hardware products, it's too early to tell whether encrypted hard drives could gain acceptance, especially given the daunting nature of enterprise encryption. Most data doesn't sit on a single drive, but rather is typically striped and mirrored across a group of drives within a RAID group. "It sounds like the whole array is going to have to be encrypted," says Stephanie Balaouras, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Ultimately, it's unlikely 2007 will be the year disk-based encryption comes to enterprise storage, or that 2.5-inch drives overtake 3.5-inch drives. "I think we have one revolution that we're still going to go through before we get to the next change in either interface or form factor," says Balaouras. "It'll definitely take a while."

--Trina MacDonald

Article 8 of 16

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