Disk Drives for All Seasons

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With all the attention in enterprise storage going to solid state disks at the moment, little notice is being taken of another major shift in technology: the rise of the 2.5-inch hard disk format as a high-capacity/low cost solution.


Already, the 2.5-inch drive is emerging as an enterprise star by virtue of its operational performance and lower energy consumption. And while their top capacities still trail their larger cousins, observers say it is only a matter of time before multiple 2.5's provide enough storage to satisfy all but the largest requirements at a lower price/GB.


One of the biggest believers is Seagate, which this week unveiled the latest in the Savvio family of drives, the 15K.2 HDD designed to fill out the company's Unified Storage architecture. The device is available in 73 and 146 GB versions, both of which have SAS 2.0 interfaces capable of 6 Gbps speed. It is also the first small form-factor 15K enterprise drive to employ the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) self-encryption system.


I asked Henry Fabian, executive director of marketing and strategy for Seagate's Core Products Group, why the company is putting so much effort behind the Savvio line when it enjoys such a comfortable position with the 3.5-inch Cheetah drive, and this is what he told me:


First, he said that with storage convergence already under way in most enterprises, features like SAS, small form-factors and self-encryption capability will be the wave of the future. "At the highest level," he said, "it's all about ensuring business sustainability and scalability. The best-of-breed storage solutions will be the ones to reduce costs and lessen storage complexity."


He went on to say that the Cheetah drive will continue to see legacy support, but the future belongs to the Savvio because the value proposition of 2.5-inch technology is too strong.


"The attraction of 3.5-inch is primarily capacity," he said. "But as the capacity points for 2.5-inch grow along with their advantages in power and cooling, at some point in time people will be saying they need fewer 3.5-inch drives or they will be relegated to very specific functions. If you look far enough out into the future, there is clearly a strengthened value proposition for small form-factor."


Fabian also said solid state disks are likely to play a major role in the company's unified storage platform, although it is still being worked out.


Clearly, the 3.5-inch drive is feeling the effects of more robust 2.5-inch solutions. This survey of European drive distribution shows that only the largest capacity 3.5's -- those at 500 GB and up -- are seeing any real strength. And yet there are still a number of new systems that incorporate innovative new 3.5-inch designs.


Rackable Systems, for one, is delivering its new C2005 server with room for up to four 3.5-inch drives or eight 2.5-inch drives or a combination of both. Verari Systems is going a step further, combining a 2.5-inch Intel X25-E SSD and a 3.5-inch SATA hard drive in the new HyDrive blade, mixing the high I/O performance of solid state with extra capacity of the larger drive.


That storage is undergoing a transformation goes without saying. And like the server and network sides of the data center, storage is becoming more flexible and easier to manage, no matter which format you use.