Enterprise Drives Come to Tiny Town

Don't be fooled by its small size: Any way you look at it, Seagate's 2.5-inch server drive is an enterprise device, writes Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern.

In the technology market, change presents opportunities for suppliers as well as some moments of doubt for customers. In the business, this is called an "educational opportunity," and the opportunities are rife in Seagates recent announcement of a new 2.5-inch hard disk format.

Last week, I mentioned the companys forthcoming 2.5-inch "Enterprise Disc Drive," due a year from now. I suggested that applying the word "Disc" to a hard drive, whatever its size, might confuse some customers (and search engines) accustomed to the convention of spelling "hard disk" with a "k" and "optical disc" with a "c." More importantly, I also suggested that the drives tiny form factor challenges conventional wisdom about what constitutes an enterprise device. (See Pin the Tail on Reliability for more of the story.)

Lets address the spelling lesson first. "I have worked for Seagate for over 11 years, and we have always called our hard drives Disc Drives, " Phil Thimell replied, and pointed to the 1979 origin of the company in its timeline. "That may be slightly longer than the optical market has existed."

Considering the slow pace of optical technology, one might guess that optical could have been there first. According to the Computer History Museums component timeline, the first hard drive for personal computers and the first optical drive were both released in 1980. (Of course, the first magnetic storage drive was offered in the 1950s, while the laser diode wasnt invented until 1962.)

Simply being first to market with a product makes no difference to Internet search engines or to the expectations of customers (and hard-working editors). When I googled the industry-standard terminology "hard disk drive," I uncovered more than 300,000 results. A search for "hard disc drive" only brings 7,600 entries, about 1,200 of those from Seagate.

(Such semantic or linguistic differences are always troublesome. For example, an otherwise-logical buddy who remembers the Homebrew Club days pronounces "gigabyte" as "djigabyte," like the famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt or jigsaw.)

Were that the only confusion, there would be no problem. However, Seagates device confounds more than orthography; it also challenges conventional assumptions about the role of a 2.5-inch hard disk.

Seagates forthcoming Enterprise Disc Drive (EDD) (which the company called "Small Form Factor" internally) will be the companys high-performance mechanism for server applications. In terms of size, performance and interface, the EDD will bear little relationship to the current or future 2.5-inch mechanisms used in notebook computers.

Even though its called a 2.5-inch drive, the EDD is much beefier than current notebook drives, measuring 15mm high. Once upon a time, this would have been a fine dimension for a mobile drive, but its way too big for todays lean machines. For example, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies new Travelstar 7K6 with a spindle speed of 7,200 RPM is a mere 9.5mm in height.

The EDD is aimed at raising the performance and capacity available per U in rack-mount storage. Now, the increase in capacity is obvious, but the EDD also can improve seek times—an important advantage for a server applications that read and write lots of small files—by reducing the width of the platters and thus the distance the actuator must move. At the same time, the EDD has none of the anti-shock technologies needed for mobile use. Its a drive that wants to stay put.

On the interface side, the EDD will come with either an Ultra 320 SCSI, Serial Attached SCSI (SS) or Fibre Channel interface, all of which are aimed at server applications. (All current notebooks use the ATA interface.)

Still, many published reports persist in describing the EDD as an "enterprise-class" 2.5-inch hard drive. Forget the "class": the EDD is an enterprise drive.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.