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Hitachi ships SAS and 4 Gbps FC drives

Hard disk drive maker Hitachi ships SAS and 4 Gbps FC drives, paving the way for systems that combine SATA and SAS drives.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., announced that it has begun shipping disk drives with serial-attached SCSI (SAS) and 4 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) interfaces, paving the way for high-performance storage systems that support both SAS and SATA in a single enclosure, as well as super-fast seek times.

Hitachi's new Ultrastar 15K147, with SAS and 4Gbps FC interfaces, will begin shipping this month, reaching full-volume production by the end of July.

"It's the Kentucky Derby of disk drives," said Jim Porter, president of market research firm, Disk Trend Inc. The Ultrastar 15K147 delivers an average seek time of 3.3 milliseconds (msec), average latency of 2 msec and 33% more I/Os per second compared to 10,000 RPM products, Hitachi claims.

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These performance characteristics are suitable for only a minority of applications, such as online transaction processing and data analysis, but in these environments the extra performance can have an impact. "Think of an airline computer system 10 minutes before takeoff," Porter said. "The number of people trying to get immediate access to that one disk drive is high -- a split-second increase in seek time enables more people to have access to that computer, without performance degrading."

SAS is the next-generation serial interface to follow parallel SCSI drives, and one of its key advantages over the older SCSI interface is that it can coexist in the same enclosure as SATA drives. This provides storage system OEMs like EMC Corp. and Hitachi the ability to design arrays that combine SAS drives for high-performance applications with SATA drives for low-I/O applications in a single system.

The new drives are available in 36, 73 and 147 GB capacities and feature large, 16 MB cache sizes to improve average read/write response times. For the foreseeable future, Hitachi will continue to offer the Ultrastar 15K147 with Ultra320 SCSI for customers using parallel-based storage systems.

The Ultrastar 15K 147 supports SAS and 4 Gbps FC because Hitachi must play in both markets, analysts said. "Users still have both so this is what the vendors will support," said John Buttress, research manager at IDC. Looking ahead, IDC expects SAS and SATA drives to swallow the lion's share of the market, with a combined 70% share by 2008.

IDC hard disk drive interface market share projections.

2004 2005 2008
FC 19% 22% 26%
SCSI 68.6% 56% 8%
SAS 1.5% 5% 35.5%
SATA 6% 15% 29%

NB: The remaining share is split between ATA (IDE) and FATA.

SAS supports data transfer rates of up to 3 Gbps and full duplex, point-to-point connections so that each drive has a dedicated connection to the host. Parallel SCSI limited users to 15 drives per controller, while SAS architectures support up to 16,384 connections. The 4 Gbps FC drives allow for a data transfer rate of up to 400 MBps half-duplex and up to 800 MBps full-duplex, per port. This interface is backward compatible with 2 Gbps and 1 Gbps hardware.

Seagate Technology Inc., Maxtor Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. have already announced SAS drives. Hitachi claims it will be the first to ship 4 Gbps FC.

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