SATA Suppliers Ready for Onslaught

Controller makers predict big demand for SATA-based NAS and SAN

January 17, 2004

3 Min Read
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Makers of serial ATA (SATA) controller chips say business will boom in 2004. Recent announcements from Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT), Promise Technology Inc., RaidCore Inc., 3ware Inc., and VIA Technologies Inc. indicate that demand is growing for chips that give servers and workstations links to SATA disks, with RAID included.

These players say OEMs are clamoring for components that link from two to eight SATA drives to computer buses, while offering multilevel RAID protection. The combination is ideal for a roster of applications for servers or small storage devices. RAID-enabled SATA might be used to store medical images, video on demand, surveillance video in prisons or airports, images of checks and other financial documents, and the trendy compliance information corporations are squirreling away.

Announcements are flying. Next week, 3ware plans to unveil a controller that cuts down on the amount of cabling needed to link a computer's inner workings to SATA drives.This week, Adaptec and Promise announced contracts with various motherboard suppliers (see Motherboard Makers Pick Adaptec and Promise Wins Motherboard Deals). VIA announced a serial ATA RAID controller for mobile PCs (see VIA Intros SATA RAID Controller).

All this builds on momentum surrounding SATA in general, as reflected in recent news from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) (see IBM's SATA-Day Arrives). SATA already has respect as an alternative to tape storage or parallel ATA, the technique that initially emerged as a low-cost alternative to SCSI. But lately, the addition of RAID to SATA controllers -- along with proprietary features designed to improve performance -- makes the argument for SATA even more compelling, proponents say.

"Serial ATA is actually addressing emerging markets where SCSI is cost prohibitive. RAID is a key aspect of that," says Barbara Murphy, VP of marketing at 3ware. All of the vendors mentioned in this article offer RAID support on their SATA controllers.Murphy is among those who predict a spurt of growth in SATA components and products this year, as companies start to glom on to the new solutions. By the end of 2004, she thinks 80 percent of ATA drive sales will be for SATA, as opposed to its predecessor, parallel ATA. She also sees a growing demand for controllers that combine SATA with iSCSI for higher-end storage equipment.

For the moment, though, the biggest opportunity for SATA is in the low end, sources say -- in equipping network servers and departmental workstations with fast, high-capacity SATA drives. Among the companies with this view is Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Charles Stevens, corporate VP of Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division, told Byte and Switch in an inteview this week that "Everything is overshadowed by new fast disk technology." Consolidation of server databases and filing systems will lead to new NAS and SAN gear for departmental use, he says. The availability of fast local storage is one reason Microsoft got into the storage space, he maintains.

None of this means SCSI is going away. SATA controllers generally don't handle huge amounts of drives (12 seems to be the high end, available from 3ware, for one), and the addition of RAID cuts available storage space in half. "Performance and reliability are still better in SCSI," says Linus Wong, director of strategic marketing for Adaptec's Storage Solutions Group. But he too sees the SATA ship coming in: "We see 2004 as a transition year from parallel to serial ATA in sub-entry or low-end network servers."

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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