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Smaller, speedier SAS array steps out

Fujitsu's SAS array, which offers users faster data transmission speeds in a smaller footprint, hits the shelves.

A development team, spearheaded by Fujitsu Computer Products of America Inc., officially unveiled the first enterprise-level serial-attached SCSI (SAS) array this week.

The Fujitsu brainchild, dubbed Supermicro M28E, features 2.5-inch disks, as compared to the standard 3.5-inch disks. The small form factor disks are a bid to free up space for users and reduce energy costs.

"A lot of companies are literally running out of floor space in their back rooms," according to Don Jeanette, a senior product marketing manager with Fujitsu. "People have been complaining about their power bills and [not having] room to put these big towers in."

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Supermicro M28E consists of eight 36 GB or 73 GB Fujitsu drives and a host bus adapter by LSI Logic Corp. packed inside a canister by Supermicro Computer Inc. The new arrays will process 3 GB of data per second, as compared to parallel SCSI platforms, which are calibrated in megabytes per second. The product will be distributed through Bell Microproducts Inc. starting immediately. The half terabyte (TB) unit is priced at $4,620 and the 1 TB system at $8,400.

Other storage players, such as Seagate Technology LLC, are developing similar products, but Fujitsu claims its SAS array is two to three months ahead of the nearest competitors.

SAS is the next logical step in storage interface protocols according to industry analysts -- an improvement on parallel SCSI, compatible with SATA, and cheaper than Fibre Channel.

Tony Asaro, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, said the compatibility with SATA will be the main appeal for SAS. "The success of SATA has driven SAS into people's minds as the next step where SCSI was going to go," he said. "SAS is going to be part of a tiered storage strategy along with SATA …since SATA and SAS share the same components, I can have a storage system or a workstation that supports both."

Using SATA and SAS in the same system fits an emerging trend for transferring data to different storage as it ages. Users can move data from SAS to cheaper SATA disks as they need to access it less frequently.

Jeanette said a key improvement with SAS over parallel SCSI lies in the interface protocol. With parallel SCSI, commands must be sent saying packets are ready to transmit, which often have to wait for a receiver to be ready. That receiver must then send a confirmation notice to the first transmitter, which then sends a receipt of confirmation, and so on. SAS, on the other hand, "Opens up a floodgate. You don't worry about sending a notice that you're sending the data," Jeanette said.

Not everyone believes SAS is the next big thing. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies recently scratched its first generation of 2.5-inch SAS drives to focus on what it expects to be bigger growth opportunities like consumer and enterprise ATA drives, the company said.

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