EMC and HP Spin Disk

One takes on tape, the other SATA, with SAN options

April 6, 2004

4 Min Read
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PHOENIX -- EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) unveiled disk products that provide a twist on traditional technology at the Storage Networking World conference here today.

EMC introduced the Clariion Disk Library that plugs into a SAN system (see EMC Intros Clariion Disk Library) to back up and retrieve data. EMC says it backs up and restores data significantly more quickly than tape, albeit at a stiff price premium. EMC also has licensed tape emulation software from FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC) for use in the new Clariion.

While EMC offers an alternative to tape, HP announced an option to its SATA drive based on a hybrid Fibre Channel technology developed with Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX). It calls the new drives Fibre Attached Technology Adapted -- or FATA, of course.

Let's look closer at EMC first: Using ATA drives and 3:1 disk compression, EMC positions its new Clariion disk library as an alternative to high-end enterprise tape libraries. EMCs disk store up to 58TBytes of usable storage and 174 TBytes using compression. The compression significantly decreases backup times, which have been a major headache. In a Byte and Switch survey of enterprise users last November, 41 percent of respondents said they expect to introduce disk backup to augment their tape infrastructure; and another 16 percent said they expect to replace tape with disk backup systems (see Backup Still a Pain in the Neck). 58 terabytes of usable storage and up to 174 terabytes using compression technology provided by the disk library.

Disk backup solutions are offered by a slew of companies: Alacritus Software Inc., Diligent Technologies Corp., MaXXan Systems Inc., Neartek Inc., and Sepaton Inc.

all have virtual tape hardware or software; and even tape vendors Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC), Quantum Corp. (NYSE: DSS), and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK)offer disk-to-disk-to-tape backup systems. The difference in the Clariion product is that it looks like a tape library to the network and doesn’t require extra software or configuration changes.“All drives will look like tape drives on the disk library,” Yankee Group senior analyst Stephanie Balaouras says. “You don’t have to buy disk options. Processes like LUN management and file management are preconfigured.”

EMC VP of storage platforms marketing Chuck Hollis claims the Clariion library will spawn a new category of disk library systems by the end of the year. “This is a billion dollar-plus market,” he says, “and we think we have a six- to nine-month advantage.”

EMC could have one challenger sooner than that. Startup Copan Systems Inc. is set to offer an appliance it claims performs disk backup at tape prices (see Copan Takes Aim at Tape).

The market will take time to develop, especially in the enterprise, where EMC aims its disk library. Not even Hollis expects businesses to immediately rip out their tape libraries to put in more expensive disk libraries that use more costly media for backup.

A Clariion disk library costs $450,000 for 32 TBytes -- about 40 percent more than competing tape libraries. EMC will try to get enterprises with multiple tape libraries to replace one at a time with the disk library. The disk library can connect to standard tape libraries to become one of several libraries on the SAN.“We’re not positioning this as cheaper than tape,” Hollis says. “Tape is pretty cheap stuff. I don’t think it will ever be cheaper than tape. Disk libraries are more expensive, but they do more.” EMC’s disk library will be available next week.

HP’s drives provide a Fibre Channel connection to ATA drives -- in effect, an option to high-cost Fibre Channel drives and low-cost Serial ATA (SATA). HP says the drives will cost about half as much as traditional Fibre Channel drives and not much more than SATA because the FATA drive slides into HP’s Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) SAN systems. Customers don’t have to buy a new shelf, as they would to install SATA drives.

If used with a dual-port 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel interface, FATA drives can hold 250 Gbytes of storage. HP expects to make the new drives available in July.

You have to wonder if HP’s not too late with the new drive technology. Do customers really want another disk option?

HP says the FATA drives are meant for SANs where bulk storage and lower price per gigabyte are more important than access time. But that’s the same market SATA is aimed at -- and SATA offers more than just reduced disk prices. SATA drives and the emerging iSCSI interface are part of the IP SAN structure that many see as long-term alternative to Fibre Channel. So why would they embrace a new Fibre Channel technology?“By introducing low-cost disk we believe disk arrays will be used in new ways,” HP’s online storage marketing director Kyle Fitze says. “We see it used as a new tier -- near online storage.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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