IBM's SATA-Day Arrives

Big Blue ships SATA expansion unit for midrange SAN server and announces two customers

December 31, 2003

3 Min Read
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In the dwindling days of 2003, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is moving to get an early jump on two of the hottest trends forecast for next year: It's shipping a midrange storage server with Serial ATA (SATA) disk drives. But questions surround its choice of target market.

Let's start at the top. IBMs new TotalStorage FastT expansion unit lets companies attach SATA disk drives to its FastT900 and FastT600 midrange storage servers. The solution is aimed at companies looking to use SATA disks in their organizations -- and according to IBM, a main reason is to comply with new regulations that call for increased storage of corporate documentation. Indeed, the new unit is part of IBM’s compliance strategy announced in October (see IBM Chases Compliance Dollars).

On the face of it, SATA seems a good approach to compliance. The disks are designed to provide high-reliability characteristics akin to more expensive Fibre Channel drives, but they cost substantially less. SATA drives also are faster and more reliable than tape, which makes them a good choice for near-line storage of data, such as archived email, that's needed to meet new federal regulations.

IBM's unit has plenty of room for all the data companies need to track. It comes as a rack-mountable enclosure that supports up to fourteen 250-Gbyte SATA disk drive modules, for a total of 3.5 Tbytes per enclosure. The expansion units pack redundant 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel connections to FastT servers.

Here's the rub: Most SATA offerings are for low-end storage. Examples include wares from LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI), Maxtor Corp. (NYSE: MXO), 3ware Inc., Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A), IntraDyn Inc., RaidCore Inc., and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI) -- all of which have released or demonstrated SATA products. See:

But IBM's among the first to offer SATA on midrange systems (see EMC, IBM Lead in Midrange Storage). That gives it a jump on that market -- but is it the right market? (See Sun Set for SATA Day?) And will organizations agree these servers are the solution for compliance?

So far, the jury's out. The first two customers IBM announced for the SATA servers are not using them for compliance. These early adopters include Tilak, a holding organization for hospitals in Tyrol, Austria; and the Norwegian National Library, a library, we are told, in Norway. Tilak plans to archive digital pictures, and the library is bracing for a large influx of new data. In both cases, the customers require large storage capacity for data that may not be frequently accessed.

“We wanted to offer our customers a way to more affordably manage their various fixed content and data reference applications that require large amounts of storage capacity but do not have the high utilization and access characteristics satisfied by Fibre Channel disk drive storage,” IBM product manager Harold Pike said.

The main question that remains unanswered is whether companies need compliance data to be frequently accessible or not. How compliance unfolds will determine whether IBM is really on target.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and SwitchArchives of Related Byte and Switch Webinars:

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