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Honey, I Shrunk The Enterprise Disk

Disk technology for enterprise servers and storage subsystems is going though a fundamental, though gradual, change. I'm not referring to new thresholds in capacity, a shift from parallel to serial, spin speeds or faster I/Os per second. Rather, we are on the cusp of an overall transformation to a new form factor.

Although the 3.5-inch form factor remains prevalent, a new crop of 2.5-inch disks started to appear in the middle of last year, and more are expected out this quarter and throughout this year. That sets the stage for a whole, new generation of drives. But what about demand? Taking an inch off a drive might be a big deal for a notebook computer or, more obviously, an iPod, but servers and storage arrays? However, 2.5-inch drives hold great promise for systems where there are multiple disks, or where power and cooling are significant issues. Those drives also will support evolving standards, such as serial-attached SCSI (SAS).

Of the four top suppliers of enterprise drives, three--Seagate, Hitachi and Fujitsu--are pushing forward this year with plans to roll out 2.5-inch drives. Maxtor, the one holdout, believes the market for the new drives will be limited until 2006, so it has yet to get in the game.

To be sure, no one is predicting that subsystem manufacturers will displace larger drives with smaller ones out of the gate. Seagate, the first to start shipping its 2.5-inch Savvio disks, sees the initial uptick coming from direct-attached storage systems, primarily servers.

"The launch of Savvio into the marketplace will start this transition in a pretty significant way," says Brian Dexheimer, Seagate's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "It's going to be a pretty significant dynamic."

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