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 said Monday that it has developed an ATA drive that rivals the speed and performance of SCSI drives at a 30 percent cost savings.

The Lake Forest, Calif.-based company said its Enterprise Serial advanced technology attachment (ATA) disk drive, called WD Raptor, offers systems builders and storage vendors enterprise-class specifications, including a 10,000-rpm 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 $160, which compares favorably with SCSI drives of the same capacity that average about $200.

Experts had previously predicted that ATA disk drive spindle speeds would remain at 5,400 or 7,200 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 center 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?" said Tony Prigmore, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass. "When an announcement like this comes along, 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 believes that even with ATA rivaling SCSI speeds and performance, it will still be four or five years before ATA can offer a serious challenge at the midrange and high end of the data center -- mostly because it has had no field time. The economic downturn could speed that adoption process, however.

ATA disks are cheaper to manufacture than SCSI or Fibre Channel drives for several reasons. Mainly, though, ATA disks are tested in batches, while 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 estimates that about 87% of all drives today are ATA, vs. 11% for SCSI and 2% for Fibre Channel.

"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," said Ted Desenbaoug, senior director of marketing at Western Digital.

The result, Desenbaoug said, is an ATA drive with the same performance and reliability as SCSI. Still, the drive isn't as cheap as previous ATA offerings, which run about $70 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 normal integrated drive electronics disk to 84mm, which reduces the "fluttering" effect that can occur at the edge of the disk itself.

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

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