Serious SATA Steps In for Storage

Opinion: The cheaper drives are gaining reliability and being primed for primary storage.

With 400GB total capacity, 7,200 rpm and 16MB of onboard cache, the current specs of the new Western Digital WD Caviar RE2 may look pretty boring—until you discover that the drive is designed for 24/7 duty cycles.

Why am I making a big fuss over a hard-working SATA (Serial ATA) drive? With 24/7 levels of reliability and durability, SATA drives are now able to venture beyond the world of nearline storage and become legitimate targets for primary storage.

Most of todays SATA drives are rated for workstation and desktop duty cycles, where drives are only truly being worked for a few hours every day. If you try to use these drives in intense application environments where they are constantly accessed, the drives often break down under the strain.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead details here about Samsungs first SATA II hard drive.

For this reason, and because storage vendors were not in a hurry to sell cheap SATA instead of more expensive SCSI and Fibre Channel arrays, SATA arrays have traditionally been marketed for nearline storage.

Over the past few years, however, legions of cost-conscious maverick IT managers have implemented SATA as primary storage—against the recommendations of storage vendors.

For IT managers facing an explosion of reference data, the emergence of high-duty-cycle SATA drives couldnt have come at a better time. Reference data comes in many forms, be it medical images in health care services, blueprints at engineering companies or digital media at production houses. Instead of spending large amounts of money on SCSI and Fibre Channel hard drives, IT managers can now harness SATA-powered servers to store this data.

In addition to file servers, the new reliable class of SATA drives should be ideal storage for other common applications, such as e-mail and streaming media.

Most rack-mount servers today ship with parallel SCSI adapters and drives, but over the course of the next year, SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) adapters will become standard equipment.

The significance of this is that SAS adapters have the ability to support SATA drives, which should allow IT managers to choose SATA drives instead of more expensive options when ordering servers.

/zimages/5/28571.gifLSI Logic adds SAS support to MyStorage. Click here to read more.

While I do not predict that Fibre Channel or SCSI drives will disappear any time soon, the new level of reliability that SATA drives are working toward (assuming the recently released WD Caviar RE2 delivers on Western Digitals reliability boast) will make them ideal drives for small and midrange servers.

With SATA drives topping out at around 10,000 rpm, compared to 15,000 rpm for SCSI and Fibre Channel drives, however, SATA drives will still not be a good choice for transaction-intensive applications.

eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at

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