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April 4, 2004

HP FATA than the rest with hybrid disk

Hewlett Packard Corp's storage division has stolen a march on its rivals with early access to a hybrid disk drive that will lower the cost of using ATA disk drives, and could change the way customers build tiered storage systems.

By CBR Staff Writer

HP will dual-source the drives from Seagate Systems and Hitachi Ltd, and says it does not expect any other vendors to be able to offer the drives for six to twelve months.

Hitachi would only say: This is a custom product for HP. Discussions with HP were the seed for the evolution of this product. At the current time, HP will be the only customer receiving the drive. Seagate was unable to comment by press time.

Among HP’s array making rivals, EMC Corp did not return any comment by press time, and IBM Corp declined to comment.

HP will offer the hybrid drives around June this year. The drives will combine ATA mechanical components with FC interface electronics. Dubbed FATA – Fibre Attached Technology Adaptor – technology, the drives will cost slightly more than other ATA drives, or around half the cost of an FC drive, HP said.

ATA disk drives are much cheaper than Fibre Channel or SCSI drives only because they use cheaper mechanical components. The electronics that form the ATA, FC or SCSI interface cost about the same in all three cases.

The FATA saving over ordinary ATA drives will come because they will work in arrays that were originally designed to work with FC drives, without needing any additional electronics to convert data traffic from ATA into FC.

According to HP, an enclosure or housing for a mid-range array such as EMC Clarrion or Hitachi Thunder costs around $5,000 for FC drives, and ironically around $15,000 for cheaper ATA drives, because of the need for interface conversion.

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Tony Asaro, analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group, said those figures are about right. But he added that this upfront saving is not necessarily the most important thing about FATA.

FATA will allow array makers to offer ATA as an option for their high-end devices, such as the IBM Shark, EMC Symmetrix, or Hitachi Lightning, something they do not do now, Asaro said.

As a result, big customers that most need to build tiered storage systems have had to buy in mid-range arrays to create an ATA tier for storage of lower value data. Implementing ATA in the enterprise up to now has been non-trivial. Now they can get cheaper drives and create that tiered storage, he said.

The FATA drives will be 250GB, dual 2Gbit port, and will be offered on HP’s EVA array. The EVA is HP’ most expensive array developed in-house. Above that, HP also sells an OEM’ed version of Hitachi’s top-of-line Lightning array.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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