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New SAS products spark debate

Recently announced SAS products have renewed the debate over whether SAS will push out Fibre Channel or SATA in the data center.

Serial attached SCSI seems like it's been a long time coming, and given all the time to hurry up and wait, there are already new schools of thought emerging about where the new interface will fit in the data center. Some industry experts feel SAS will replace SATA; others that it will threaten Fibre Channel; but the recently announced SAS products, other analysts say, show that SAS ultimately might not end up completely replacing either.

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Infortrend announced the EonStor® (ES) S12F-R1420 4 Gigabit (4Gb) Fibre Channel to SAS RAID array on Sept. 26. Infortrend's president, Tony Chu, said he expects the box to begin shipping by the fourth quarter. Promise Technology Inc. also just launched the VTrak J300s SAS to SATA JBOD subsystem, expected late in the fourth quarter. Both companies said they expected the SAS market to really take off early next year.

Chu said he was in line with those who think SAS may drive Fibre Channel out of the data center, given its comparable reliability and much lower cost, but would leave SATA plenty of market share.

" Unless SAS prices go way, way down, SATA will still be used in many secondary storage places," he said.

Meanwhile, he said he felt SAS offered better connections between devices than Fibre Channel. " Fibre Channel connects so many devices on one loop, and every one shares the same bus," he said. " SAS offers much simpler point-to-point connections."

Meanwhile, however, some experts have speculated that, instead, it will be SATA that will be displaced by SAS, since SAS, typically a higher quality drive, can slide so easily into SATA-based arrays.

" They coexist very well together," said Thomas Bayens, director of corporate marketing for Promise Technologies. " They can both plug into the same backplane, where SAS and Fibre Channel's interoperability is kind of a question mark."

Some industry analysts, meanwhile, say neither FC or SATA is necessarily totally threatened by SAS, and that it might find its own place in the data center.

According to Arun Taneja, SAS could become a go-between for FC and SATA drives, which currently don't talk to one another without separate bridging technology. " If FC is a strong connectivity mechanism and SAS/SATA are compatible at the slot level, why not create FC-SAS, where by the customer could enjoy creating two tiers of storage in the same box?" he said.

" Bridges add cost and complexity to products. A protocol that makes FC understand SATA without a bridge… has not been ratified by any standards body yet... So for now SAS-SATA interaction is smoother," Taneja said.

According to Greg Schulz, analyst with the Evaluator Group, SAS will elbow its way into the data center, driving virtually every other technology out of at least some markets. " Over time, there probably will be some cannibalization of the FC disk space by SAS as it makes its way into enterprise arrays," Schulz said. " On the low end, it's a different game, there SCSI will be replaced by SAS and I would expect that some IDE, ATA and SATA implementations might be replaced by SAS as well as costs come down… SAS could also be pitted against iSCSI and NAS in some of these environments."

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