Seagate gears up for 1 Tbyte disc drives

Storage vendors qualifying new 1 Tbyte drives for nearline and clustered Nas systems to ship later this year.

Seagate Technology is throwing its hat into the 1 terabyte (Tbyte) disc drive ring with a new addition to its Barracuda product line that will ship to OEMs in the third quarter.

Seagate joins Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, which first shipped a 1 Tbyte consumer drive in April and has since added an enterprise-class drive. Samsung Electronics USA also announced a 1 Tbyte disc drive last week, and Seagate is also adding a 1 Tbyte desktop model to its portfolio as part of its announcement this week.

The Seagate enterprise drive has features to address enterprise-specific concerns about large drives, the company said. The Barracuda ES.2 1 Tbyte disc drive has a feature called PowerTrim, which cuts off power to either the read or write parts of the drive's electronics in order to make the drive more "green;" according to Henry Fabian, executive director of marketing for Seagate. The company expects PowerTrim to save around 2W per drive. PowerTrim is being newly introduced with the 1 Tbyte model but will be applicable to the 250 Gbyte, 500 Gbyte and 750 Gbyte models of the ES.2 product line.

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SATA boosts RAID 6 use

Higher capacity, higher stakes

Reliability will become a more critical factor for users with large disc drives -- 1 Tbyte is a lot of data to lose in a single drive failure. Systems vendors currently qualifying drives are recommending caution when it comes to RAID groups. Most vendors recommend RAID 6 or RAID DP, which can tolerate two disc drive failures, as opposed to RAID 5, which uses one parity disc drive and can only tolerate a single failure.

Seagate claims the new drive is more reliable than previous versions of its SATA products, 1.2 million hours before failing, which matches Hitachi's specifications on its enterprise drives. Tolerance for rotational vibration has also been raised from 1.3 KHz in the previous generation to 1.5 KHz with the new drive.

However, not every storage vendor is in lock step with the RAID 6 trend. Pillar Data Systems Inc., for example, stripes the data across multiple RAID 5 sets in its Axiom arrays. "This single striping of data across multiple RAID 5 sets is commonly called RAID 50 and provides parity protection for the data in the event of a drive failure," wrote Chip Woerner, vice president of corporate communications at Pillar, in an email to

"Not every one of our [OEM] customers supports RAID 6 yet, and for certain applications RAID 5 is still preferable because it involves less parity overhead," said Mike Jensen, chief storage architect for Dot Hill Corp. "In those instances it makes more sense to have smaller parity groups in a RAID 5 configuration to boost reliability."

Meanwhile, Seagate said the PowerTrim feature actually prolongs the life of its drives, and that its design takes into account the allowable number of on/off cycles for the electronic components of each drives, but the feature is worrisome to some users when it comes to disc drive life.

"I would stay away from that in the first generation," said Joe Meyer, senior storage architect for Level 3 Communications Inc. The terabyte disc drives look most interesting to him for backup and applications with large sequential reads and writes. "I would also look to the array vendors to make sure to do their due diligence, though I would also not want to be the first adopter of that technology, regardless."

"The failure of a drive is often like a light bulb -- it usually fails when you try to power it back up," according to David Reinsel, vice president of storage and semiconductor research groups for IDC. Of particular concern is the possibility that a disc drive, where electronics are partly shut down, might not send a response quickly enough to disc-scrubbing applications. "A lot of tweaking goes on with firmware in the enterprise world, and these drives have got to be tested thoroughly to make sure there aren't problems with 'false dead' drives."

Performance: The next frontier

While 7,200 rpm is typical for high-capacity SATA disc drives, some users said they'd like to see a 1 Tbyte capacity disc drive move quicker before they'd want to see even more bits packed onto a disc.

"If I could talk to Seagate's engineers right now, I'd say, 'thank you for the added capacity, but I would rather you work on making a 10,000 rpm or 15,000 rpm version of a 1 terabyte drive next, rather than another 7,200 rpm drive that can hold two terabytes,' " said Tom Dugan, chief technology officer of backup services provider Recovery Networks Inc.

"It's tough to say" whether that will happen, according to John Rydning, research manager for IDC's Storage Mechanisms: disc program. "Typically storage systems OEMs are focused on either capacity or performance, but not both at the same time."

One OEM, however, is banking on faster 1 Tbyte disc drives and in different formats. "It's like when 300 Gbyte drives were first introduced years ago," said Val Bercovici, director of technical strategy for Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp). "Today there are 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel drives at 300 Gbytes. I expect in about two years' time to see a Fibre Channel or SAS drive at 15,000 rpm and 1 Tbyte capacity."

Where the drives will surface

With three manufacturers now set to ship 1 Tbyte disc drives into two different markets, "the race is on," according to Reinsel. Competition among drive vendors means systems vendors can now test and qualify multiple drives and get better pricing.

NetApp, EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Overland Storage Inc., Pillar, BlueArc Corp., Isilon Systems Inc., Dot Hill, Xyratex and Xiotech Corp. all indicated to SearchStorage that they plan to incorporate the drives when they become available. 3PARdata Inc., EqualLogic Corp. and LSI Logic Corp. declined comment. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), IBM and Quantum Corp. did not respond to requests for comment as of press time. Those companies that gave specific timeframes for the addition of 1 Tbyte disc drives to their systems (namely Pillar, HP and NetApp) projected ship dates in the first quarter of next year.

Most of the large OEMs said the products will have the most appeal in nearline and backup storage offerings sometime in the next year. NetApp said it expects to see some large customers using its 6000 series enterprise arrays with 1 Tbyte disc drives for archival storage.

Clustered-network attached storage (Nas) makers, including BlueArc, NetApp and Isilon, also said they foresee a future for 1 Tbyte discs outside the obvious archival and secondary storage role. In particular, NetApp said it expects to see the drives have some adoption in its OnTap GX systems.

"Clustered systems have the advantage of a large globally coherent memory cache and parallel processing that allows for quicker rebuild times on high-capacity drives," said Brett Goodwin, vice president of marketing and business development for Isilon. "For us, it will be a slow and steady [qualification] process to get [these drives shipping], but once they're out, you can expect to see a wide range of high-performance, reliable enterprise applications for them with our software."

"We're excited about it," said John Affeld, director of product marketing for BlueArc. "It fits right into our target vertical markets, particularly in multimedia and online businesses that are just eating up storage like crazy."

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