IBM Settles on SATA

Adds low-end FastT system fully equipped with serial ATA drives

May 13, 2004

3 Min Read
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LAS VEGAS -- Networld+Interop -- While IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) announced its first full-fledged SATA FastT storage system in Cambridge, Mass., today, a group of vendors and users at Networld+Interop discussed using SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) in a panel on new storage protocols.

Considering the discussion included a handful of active SATA users and vendors, you have to wonder why IBM just got around to offering a system with SATA only. IBM previously offered SATA as part of an expansion draw for its FastT 600, which the new FastT100 replaces on the low end of IBMs open storage systems (see IBM's SATA-Day Arrives).

IBM is aiming the new system at financial services organizations and small enterprises that need to retain storage for a long time and don’t want to pay for Fibre Channel drives. SATA drives are substantially lower in cost than Fibre Channel, but users pay a performance price. Pete McCaffrey, part of IBM’s total storage marketing team, says the FastT100 will cost about 25 percent less than the FastT600. IBM also said it will offer write-once/read-many (WORM) tape cartridges for its model 3592 enterprise tape drive.

IBM hopes the combination of SATA and WORM [ed. note: SWORMATA?] will help it gain customers looking to tier storage according to its importance. SATA is considered best for secondary storage while archived data goes to tape. That’s a common strategy among storage vendors these days, and the crux of EMC Corp.'s (NYSE: EMC) Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) initiative.

While IBM is just getting to its first full SATA system, EMC says SATA drives were a big seller last quarter on its Clariion and Centerra systems. Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) also has reported strong SATA sales.Members of the N+I panel say SATA has a place in the enterprise but will never own it.

“If you’re using Fibre Channel to do disk-based backup, then you’re overpaying,” says Christopher Croteau, director of storage business development for Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). Others point out Fibre Channel drives remain the choice for applications such as online transactions because they spin faster than SATA. Fibre drives are also more reliable.

The N+I panel included J. Peter Herz, senior VP of business development for SATA controller startup 3ware that Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) bought for $150 million in March (see AMCC Buys More Storage). Herz says 3ware enjoyed SATA success by staying away from traditional enterprise applications.

"We found our niche outside of where the OEMs play,” Herz says. “We sell systems used for video on demand, airline baggage X-ray machines, and things like that.”

Perhaps there’s a financial reason why IBM moved slowly into the SATA segment. Its profit margins are significantly lower for SATA drives. “The big OEMs have a profit problem to manage with SATA,” Herz says. “Their profit margin comes from the resale of [Fibre Channel] drives.”— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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