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HP snubs SATA for low-cost Fibre drive

HP has opted for Seagate's new FATA drive over the more popular serial ATA drives. What's the deal?

Starting this summer, customers of Hewlett Packard's Enterprise Virtual Array will finally be able to populate their systems with low-cost, high-capacity disk drives, for second-tier storage applications. But those drives won't be ATA, or even Serial ATA. Instead, Hewlett-Packard will offer customers a new drive from Seagate, the Fibre Attached Technology Adapted (FATA) drive.

At 250 GB per drive, the FATA drive is based on the same basic platform as ATA and Serial ATA drives, but features a dual-ported 2Gb/s Fibre Channel interface. "Our customers told us they were willing to sacrifice performance, but they weren't willing to sacrifice availability," says Kyle Fitze, director of marketing for HP's online storage division.

The EVA is already built around Fibre Channel disk enclosures, so from HP's perspective, this is a much cleaner solution than modifying the EVA enclosure to support ATA. "There's lots of cost and complexity involved in going between Fibre Channel and SATA," says Fitze. "If you remove the cost and complexity of the electronics, you can reduce the overall cost to customers."

Fitze predicts that HP will be able to offer FATA-based EVAs to customers for less than a comparable ATA/SATA-based system. Customers will be able to mix and match FATA drives with high-performance drives freely, without having to purchase a separate enclosure.

The drives themselves, Fitze says, will cost about half of what an enterprise Fibre Channel drives goes for on a cost/MB basis.

But a cursory check of Fibre Channel disk drive pricing suggests that even at 50% the cost, FATA drives will still cost a fair bit more than their SATA counterparts. At press time, 147 GB Fibre Channel drives retailed for about $817, or $5.55/GB. Based on that number, a 250 GB FATA drive may cost as much as $695. In contrast, a 250GB SATA drive retails for only $262.

Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, says that price-wise, HP is probably erring on the side of caution. "I've had assurances that pricing will be very much in line with SATA drives," she says. Furthermore, because they are dual-ported, these FATA drives are inherently more reliable, and have better performance too.

As such, Marrone-Hurley fully expects vendors beyond HP to adopt FATA drives. "The only reason they wouldn't want to do it is if they didn't want to incur the cost of supporting another drive type."

A source close to Seagate, who wished to remain nameless, has told SearchStorage that Hitachi is also planning on using FATA drives, the details of which are still hush-hush. Stay tuned.

Ed. note: SearchStorage recieved this response from an HP spokesperson.
The headline of your above article on HP's new hybrid disk drives, "HP Snubs SATA for low-cost Fibre drive," is not accurate. HP is very much committed to SATA technology. Just last month, we announced future SATA support for our Modular Smart Array (MSA) family -- a line of products targeted at the SMB market. This announcement was part of HP's broader Smart Office Initiative. Regards, Alan Dunto, HP Storage Public Relations

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