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Hitachi drops 2.5-inch SAS drives

Global disk drive maker, Hitachi, has pulled the plug on its first round of 2.5-inch SAS drives, citing the need to invest in higher growth areas.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST), the hard disk drive manufacturer, has thrown in the towel on its first generation of enterprise small form factor (SFF) disk drives, turning instead to hot growth areas such as consumer and enterprise ATA disk drives, SearchStorage has learned.

The smaller 2.5-inch form factor enables a greater number of serial-attached SCSI (SAS) drives to be installed in the space previously occupied by conventional 3.5-inch enterprise hard disk drives, providing users with improved input/output (I/O) performance and lower power consumption, among other things, according to advocates of the technology.

HGST, which acquired IBM's disk drive business in 2002, had already delivered prototypes of 2.5-inch SAS disk drives to key OEMs, according to Doug Pickford, HGST director of product strategy and planning. It had not succeeded in qualifying those drives, however, say sources familiar with Hitachi's disk drive group. Now HGST intends to sit out the market until at least 2006, when it will "checkpoint" itself and "make a secondary product decision," Pickford said.

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At the same time, HGST plans to streamline its people and facilities, by reducing the number of labs involved in disk drive development from four to two. Currently, two facilities in Japan will be combined in to one. In the U.S., HGST will stop product development activities in its Rochester, N.Y. facility, and concentrate all enterprise server development at its lab in San Jose, Calif.

Pickford insists that there's nothing wrong with the small form factor disk drive segment; rather, HGST needs to "do some rebalancing and redirect resources toward high growth areas."

Analyst groups are bullish on 2.5-inch enterprise disk drives. Gartner, for example, predicts that 2.5-inch drive shipments will overtake 3.5-inch shipments in just two years, by the end of 2007.

Other disk drive manufacturers developing enterprise-class 2.5-inch drives include Seagate Technology Inc. and Fujitsu Computer Products of America Inc.

Systems manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM, meanwhile, are still on track to begin shipping systems with 2.5-inch SAS drives. Starting in May, HP will ship select ProLiant servers and MSA disk arrays with small form factor SAS disk drives. IBM's new eServer xSeries 366, also slated for May, will feature 2.5-inch SAS drives.

"We have full support from our partners to help us deliver small form factor drives with our announcement," said Rich Palmer, HP director of marketing for servers, storage and options in the ProLiant group. "We're pursuing small form factor SAS because it increases the per-U performance [IOPS generated per 1.75" of rackmount space] ... Small form factor drives also consume less power and allow for improved airflow, Palmer said. "That's really important in dense environments."

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