Western Digital unveils ATA disk with SCSI speed

Western Digital unveils ATA disk with SCSI speed

Leveraging an economy of scale built on the manufacturing of 40 million disk drives per year, Western Digital has developed an ATA drive that rivals the speed and performance of SCSI drives at a 30 per cent cost savings.

The company said its Enterprise Serial advanced technology attachment (ATA) disk drive, called WD Raptor, offered systems builders and storage vendors enterprise-class specifications. These included a 10,000rpm spindle speed, 1.2 million hours mean time between failures, and a 5.2-millisecond average seek time.

The Raptor also carries a five-year warranty.

The 36G-byte drive will retail for $US160, a price that compares favourably with SCSI drives of the same capacity that average about $US200.

Experts had previously predicted that ATA disk drive spindle speeds would remain at 5400 or 7200 rpm while SCSI and Fibre Channel drives continued their advantage with speeds above 10,000 rpm.

ATA is best known for its use in PCs and entry-level servers and until recently had always played in that lower-end marketplace. Over the past year, however, improvements in performance and reliability of ATA disk drives has opened the data centre door to the low-cost disk in the form of secondary storage for things such as nearline and fixed content storage.

"The question about ATA has always been, how [distinct] are their two markets?" an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, Tony Prigmore, said.

This announcement changed things: "If you were thinking that those were going to be parallel markets for some amount of time, that amount of time just got shortened," Prigmore said.

Even with ATA rivalling SCSI speeds and performance, it would still be four or five years before ATA could offer a serious challenge at the mid-range and high end of the data centre, he said. This was mostly because it has had no field time. However, the economic downturn could speed that adoption process.

ATA disks are cheaper to manufacture than SCSI or Fibre Channel drives for several reasons. Mainly, though, ATA disks are tested in batches. SCSI and Fibre Channel drives are tested individually.

There are about 160 million ATA drives shipped each year, compared with about 20 million SCSI drives. IDC estimated that about 87 per cent of all drives today were ATA. The remainder were SCSI (11 per cent) and Fibre Channel (2 per cent).

"We took the electronics architecture, and the software layers that exist in the ATA drive, which is overall the major bucket of the cost, and melded it with a new mechanical architecture," senior director of marketing at Western Digital, Ted Desenbaoug, said.

The result, Desenbaoug said, was an ATA drive with the same performance and reliability as SCSI. Still, the drive wasn't as cheap as previous ATA offerings, which cost about $US70 per drive.

Desenbaoug said his company was able to boost the spindle speed to 10,000 rpm by shrinking the size of the disk from the normal 95mm diameter of a normal integrated drive electronics disk to 84mm. This reduced the "fluttering" effect that could occur at the edge of the disk itself.

"This product is targeted at the top entry-level and mid-range marketplace," Desenbaoug said. "At the end of the day, with the economy where it's at right now, if we can save somebody 30 per cent of their IT budget, they're going to talk to us."

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