The Fibre Attached Technology Adapted (FATA) drives, developed jointly with Hewlett-Packard Co. and introduced earlier this week, initially will be sold and branded under the HP name.
The addition of the FATA drive came as a surprise to many in the industry, given that the enterprise storage market is already saturated with competing interfaces: the Ultra160 and Ultra320 SCSI, Serial Attached SCSI, Fibre Channel and Serial ATA.
But Seagate executives said FATA drives would primarily target entry-level servers. At the show here, Seagate also demonstrated multiple Serial ATA and SAS drives interoperating in the same enclosure, which could help simplify a storage design.
Put simply, FATA is a Fibre Channel interface bolted onto a Serial ATA-2 drive, according to Willis Whittington, senior manager of interface planning for the marketing and planning department of Seagates Enterprise Storage Group. "Id call it a server-friendly Serial ATA," Whittington said.
John McArthur, a storage analyst with IDC, said a need "absolutely" exists for what he called a "Fibre Channel interface on top of a high-capacity, low-cost, low-spindle-speed drive." According to dealers and resellers, for example, a 73GB, 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel drive can cost about $500, while 10,000 rpm or 7,200 rpm Serial ATA drives cost hundreds of dollars less.
McArthur also said he anticipated that other drive vendors would follow suit with their own FATA drives, although he said there is "not a clarion call" for them.
Seagate officials declined to discuss specifics of the new drive interface or its implementation, or when Seagate would launch its own FATA drive. HPs FATA drives will offer capacity up to 250 GB, using a dual-ported version of the 2-Gbit Fibre Channel interface.
"One of the complaints with Fibre Channel is that you cant get high-capacity drives," said Charlie Kraus, director of marketing for host bus adapters at LSI Logic Corp., based in Westborough, Mass.
According to industry sources, the upcoming Seagate FATA drive will offer a mean-time-between-failures (MTBF) rating roughly midway between the rating of a Serial ATA drive and that of a Fibre Channel enterprise drive, which are typically ruggedized to minimize vibration and are designed for 24/7 operation. Some Serial ATA drives, such as the Maxtor Maxline II, are also rated for continuous operation. Others, such as the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9, also include a Serial ATA interface but are designed to run about eight hours a day. Some enterprise vendors that have tried to ship Serial ATA drives inside of enterprise-class servers have been bitten by frequent returns, industry sources said.
The FATA interface will be specifically designed for entry-level servers, combining the advantages of Serial ATA and Fibre Channel, Whittington said. Pure Fibre Channel interfaces will remain the "top end of the top end," he said.
IDCs McArthur said that to reduce cost, storage vendors would probably choose a mix of Serial ATA and SAS drives or commit completely to Fibre Channel, a trend Seagate officials said the SAS/Serial ATA interoperability demo this week attempted to anticipate.
"It depends on the workload," IDCs McArthur said. "If that entry-level server is in a shared file space–and theres an awful lot of entry-level servers used for shared files sitting on the network with low-density, low-performance requirements—it would probably be perfect. If that low-cost server was in a highly parallel clustered environment where performance was key, then probably not."