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Seagate ships 15K drives, expects demand to wane

Seagate releases new 3.5-inch SATA and SAS drives despite its market research showing customers heading toward 2.5-inch sizes and 10K speeds.

Seagate Technology LLC unveiled new 3.5-inch 15,000 rpm SAS disk drives this week, despite the company's forecast of an industry shift this year toward 2.5-inch small form factor (SFF) 10,000 rpm media.

The 3.5-inch 15K rpm Cheetah 15K.7 will be available in 300 GB, 450 GB and new 600 GB capacities later this quarter. The 10K rpm 3.5-inch Cheetah NS.2 will be available starting this week. The drives support either a 4 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) or 6 Gbps SAS 2.0 interface.

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Seagate recently unveiled a long-term strategic vision emphasizing SFF SAS drives, but product marketing manager Gianna DiGau says the global recession and a lack of SFF support in external storage systems will delay customers from making the transition before they need to add more capacity. "In this economic climate, we want to make sure those still invested in 3.5-inch have the best drives," she says.

Seagate's market research -- extending back to 2006 and forward to 2011 -- shows a "bubble" for 3.5-inch 15K rpm drives during 2008. Those drives captured 45% of the tier 1 enterprise disk drive market in 2007 and 54% in 2008. (Seagate defines tier 1 as 10K or 15K rpm drives.)

Seagate's projections for this year show a return to roughly 2007 numbers, at 44% of the market. After that, the company predicts a precipitous drop-off, down to 26% in 2010, as small form factor drives take over.

In the meantime, Seagate expects a sharp drop-off—up to 50% over the next three years—in 15K drives. Combining the adoption numbers for 15K rpm drives in different capacities and form factors, Seagate shows these drives at 37% of the market in 2006, 49% in 2007, 60% in 2008, 55% in 2009, 43% in 2010 and 29% in 2011.

Systems vendors have said they'll support SFF disk arrays, but so far Hewlett-Packard Co. is the only major systems vendor that has pledged support for 2.5-inch drives in its disk arrays this year.

John Rydning, research director, hard disk drives at IDC, says the global economy is probably clouding the latest market forecasts. "In this economy, people are going to try and extend existing investments as long as they possibly can," he says. Meanwhile, that hasn't had any effect on the growth of data or content. "I see 3.5-inch drives continuing to outship 2.5-inch drives this year, with a crossover in 2010," he says. "It will be close to a divided market by the end of 2009."

He adds, "These transitions are never quick."

Mark Peters, analyst at Milford, MA-based Enterprise Strategy Group, was more interested in the projections about the speed of the disks to come. Seagate says it expects 15K rpm disks to decline because 10K rpm speeds will yield the same seek times with a smaller rotating medium, and Peters expects data management practices such as storage tiering and newer technologies to play a role.

"I believe we're getting to the stage where we have the tools that will allow us to move and tier data and place it on the right sort of storage device," he says. "We've had far too much on primary disk, short-stroked, for too long."

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