Fujitsu Computer Products of America Inc. on Monday shipped its first small-form-factor, Serial Attached SCSI disk drives to Hewlett-Packard Co. The SAS drives look to usher in a new generation of simpler, lower-cost storage systems.
Fujitsus new products represent the intersection of two distinct storage trends: the shrinking form factor of enterprise storage drives, and the shift from parallel to serial storage interface technologies, including Serial Attached SCSI (SAS). HP executives said they would adopt Serial ATA (SATA) technology next year, with a shift to SAS drives in 2005.
According to Joel Hagburg, vice-president of marketing for FCPA of San Jose, Calif., the drives shipped were only prototypes, and Hewlett-Packard will not test these units as part of a qualification cycle for eventual purchase. Fujitsus SAS drives have a capacity of 73.5GB; the maximum data transfer rate of the SAS interface is 3-Gbps.
For storage integrators, however, the combination of shrinking drives and the SAS interface will mean two things: higher-performance products that should be both simpler and less expensive to design. “And the two metrics dont have to occur simultaneously,” said Dave Reitzel, a storage analyst with ICD in Framingham, Mass.
Since a 2.5-inch disk platter contains less mass than its 3.5-inch counterpart, the drive can be spun at lower power, generating less heat. Some manufacturers have repurposed 3.5-inch chassis to house the 2.5-inch platters, but Fujitsus new drives shrink the form factor to about the size of the 2.5-inch drives, a 70 percent reduction in size, according to Hagburg.
The tradeoff will be a step down in capacity. However, this drop caused little worry to storage OEMs.
“To step down to small form factor means dropping down to the next capacity point, say from 300GB to 146GB,” said Jeff Jenkins, director of marketing for industry standard servers at the storage networking and infrastructure group at Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif. He said the most popular drive that the company sells currently has a capacity of 36GB. HP will introduce systems with 146Gbyte drives this year and will launch 300GB models next year, he said.
“The opportunity to shrink down those drives and get more spindles into the server…with a lot more space behind them, becomes pretty compelling,” Jenkins said.
In addition, the addition of SAS will allow the storage system to scale up to higher levels of throughput. The longstanding parallel SCSI interface is running out of steam, Reitzel said, and will be about tapped out after the current generation of Ultra320 SCSI drives is exhausted.
Furthermore, drive makers and system vendors alike can split some engineering costs over systems that use SAS and Serial ATA drives. Serial Attached SCSI controller logic can detect and control Serial ATA drives, although the opposite is not true. Consequently, storage vendors can design common backplanes for systems using both kinds of drives, Fujitsus Hagberg noted.
In the near term, SAS will have more of an effect on internal storage, IDCs Reitzel said; external storage has an “incredible” installed base of both parallel SCSI and Fibre Channel-based storage that will slowly be replaced over time.
HP plans a “three-disk” strategy, HPs Jenkins said. Entry-level servers will be built around Serial ATA drives and products where data is infrequently accessed, including tape replacement, he said. SAS and parallel SCSI will fight it out in the volume, midrange “dollars-per-performance” direct-attach server market, while Fibre Channel will continue to serve the high end, he said.
“It made a lot of sense” to combine the small-form-factor and SAS transitions into a single shift, Jenkins added.
In 2004, HP will begin moving its entire server line to a universal storage tray, a design feature HP gained with its acquisition of Compaq Computer. The drive tray will be designed to allow HP Proliant, Integrity or StorageWorks customers to buy a single set of spares which can be plugged into any machine, he said.
However, the shift to a smaller-form-factor 2.5-inch enterprise drive will require customers to purchase new server chasses or mounting mechanisms, IDCs Reitzel pointed out. Todays server chasses are designed for 3.5-inch drives.
HP uses a three-vendor sourcing strategy, Jenkins said, which means that the server giant will wait until Fujitsus rivals catch up. “Fujitsu may make the announcement first and take the lead,” but you can be sure that Seagate and Maxtor [Corp.] and the other enterprise guys wont be far behind,” IDCs Reitzel said.
Seagate Technology Inc., based in Scotts Valley, Calif., demonstrated functional samples of its own SAS drives with HP in August, according to David Szabados, a Seagate spokesman.
“I know its rare that a company says it welcomes a competitors announcement, but in this case its true,” Szabados said. “It really validates the 2.5-inch market that we announced and talked about in May.”
At that time, Seagate said it would ship 2.5-inch drives for the enterprise supporting Fibre Channel, parallel and SAS beginning in 2004.