ATA RAID Drives Sale To Merchandiser
The reduced cost of ATA (advanced technology attachment) RAID (redundant array of independent disks) enables VAR to sell two servers instead of one.
Steve Collins, EVP for integrator and systems manufacturer ARM Systems, LLC (Cotati, CA), (www.armsystems.com), likes to save his customers money - especially when the savings allow for the purchase of additional hardware. That was the case recently when a large corporation came to him requesting additional storage resources. "This was a merchandising company that deals with a lot of information and needs a lot of capacity," he said.
Cost Is A Major Consideration
This particular customer was working on a new project that required a SQL database and a storage solution to house the database. "They were interested in a server and a RAID [redundant array of independent disks] solution," says Collins. "They were looking into a Xeon [a line of Pentium II chip sets] server from Intel [Santa Clara, CA] along with an external SCSI [small computer system interface] storage solution. We recommended they install a solution incorporating dual Xeon servers, but as we began to talk about their budget and what they wanted to accomplish, I suggested they consider a Promise ATA [advanced technology attachment] RAID rack-mount solution."
The customer liked the idea of having a second server for redundancy, but the cost of a SCSI RAID solution precluded them from purchasing it. "The UltraTrak RM8000 storage solution from Promise Technology [Milpitas, CA] uses less-expensive ATA drives," says Collins. "With the money they saved by going with the ATA solution instead of the SCSI solution, they were able to purchase the second server. The second server is for redundancy. If the primary server goes down, the storage unit would simply be switched over to the backup server." In fact, the ATA storage solution with both servers still cost the customer less than it would have paid for the SCSI solution and one server.
The second server can be a huge selling point for VARs. When IT managers face budget crunches, they are still expected to solve the same problems. "If something goes wrong in an IT environment and there is not redundancy or backup, it puts IT managers and LAN administrators in a tight spot," says Collins. "They often have users and managers yelling at them to get things back up and running. Anytime you can give administrators a backup server for the same cost as a single server, you will make them happy."
ATA: Just As Good As SCSI
Collins acknowledges that some end users still have concerns about ATA drives, but those concerns are no longer valid. "Originally, ATA drives had a very lobotomized feature set compared to high-end SCSI drives," asserts Collins. "What a lot of VARs and end users don't realize is that ATA RAID has evolved. Today's ATA RAID controllers include feature sets that users used to get only in a SCSI RAID solution."
For example, the operating system has to handle different requests for bits of storage from different users. In the past, ATA drives did not handle those requests very well. "The drives tend to work in a very individualized capacity," insists Collins. "In a multitasking, multithreaded environment, particularly a server environment, the performance of ATA drives begins to suffer." With the new enhancements, when the armature of a drive moves across platters looking for data, it will pick up data it knows it will need, even if that request is the fifth deep. The data is loaded into the cache until it is served to the user.
Get The ATA Benefits, But Keep The SCSI Benefits
The main difference between SCSI and ATA arrays is price. According to Collins, a good rule to use is a cost differential of three to one. "If you spend $6,000 on a rack-mount ATA storage solution, you are going to spend around $18,000 for the SCSI external array," he says. "We saved this particular customer $10,000 on the storage box, which allowed them to purchase the second server and still spend less than they would have for the SCSI array and one server."
When it comes to performance, Collins believes SCSI and ATA are about equal. "Today's ATA drives nearly match SCSI drives in performance," he says. "When you stack eight of them together in an external storage box, each on its own separate ATA channel, the aggregate performance is substantial. I have installed a lot of these units and have not had a single customer that was not happy with the unit."