More Storage, Less Than Half The Cost
ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives, iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface), and zero-channel adapters will enable VARs to sell more RAID (redundant array of independent disks) solutions.
It's an old story. Data storage needs continue to grow while IT budgets shrink, making high-end storage hardware too expensive for many companies to purchase. "New applications are data hungry and require large amounts of storage space," says Paul Cain, chief operating officer for Arco Data Protection Systems (Hollywood, FL). "This trend is especially evident in corporations that rely on historical data. The more historical data customers rely on to do research, the more data they want. Companies do not throw data away, and they do not archive it. They simply continue to build on the data they have. As a result, their storage requirements continue to grow."
Other factors affecting an end user's storage buying decision are faster data access times, shrinking IT budgets, and concerns over data recoverability. These trends have made RAID (redundant array of independent disks) an attractive hardware choice for many end users. New technologies in the RAID space should enable VARs to continue to provide clients with faster systems at a lower cost.
Customers Are Ready For ATA, iSCSI
Craig Lyons, product marketing manager for Promise Technology (Milpitas, CA), believes Serial ATA (advanced technology attachment) will solve the storage capacity/cost dilemma of many customers. "End users are already looking into these solutions, which we believe will hit the market in mid- to late 2003" he says. "Customers will be able to connect RAID boxes to their servers using iSCSI [Internet small computer system interface] and using serial ATA drives. This is a great way for end users to lower their storage costs."
The main benefit of Serial ATA drives is the cost savings over SCSI or Fibre Channel drives. "The drives themselves are about 25% to 30% of the cost of a SCSI drive," says Lyons. "But the ability to use iSCSI as the interconnect technology is a benefit as well. Currently, if a customer wants clustered storage, they achieve it using Fibre Channel. But Fibre Channel is expensive and somewhat complex. To use Fibre Channel, companies are forced to hire someone who knows how to work with the technology. iSCSI will bring a customer's cost down because it uses existing Ethernet technology. There is virtually no learning curve because iSCSI connects the storage to the network and sends SCSI blocks of data through Ethernet."
Cain has also noted the trend toward less expensive ATA drives. While the lower cost has played a part, Cain also points to the higher speeds and capacities of the newer ATA drives. "The factors that used to separate SCSI from IDE [the interface for ATA drives] are becoming blurred," he says. "Capacities and speeds that used to only be available to enterprise corporations are now becoming available to all end users."
Fewer Commands But Increased Scalability
Bill Bedford, VP of marketing for Raidtec Corp. (Alpharetta, GA), notes there are still some inherent limitations associated with ATA, mainly a lack of commands users would normally find in SCSI and Fibre Channel. For this reason, he expects ATA to be most attractive for entry level applications. But Serial ATA does open up the opportunity for VARs to scale ATA RAID systems much larger than they could previously.
"The Serial ATA architecture provides a platform for doing more connectivity," says Bedford. "Serial ATA does not change the ATA rule of two connections per interface, but it does allow you to essentially daisy chain or scale those connections. There are also chips coming out that allow multiple connections in a single chip. From a subsystem perspective, this opens up the opportunity for VARs to design a subsystem they can more easily scale."
Zero-Channel RAID Further Reduces Costs
Chris Croteau, marketing director for Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, CA), has also seen Serial ATA starting to take hold. But he believes another trend hitting the RAID market is motherboard vendors driving down the cost of RAID controllers. "Zero-channel RAID adapters will present a less expensive upgrade path for the channel," he says. "Motherboard vendors are bringing down the controller cost by building the zero-channel capability into their platforms."
A zero-channel RAID adapter is a PCI (peripheral component interconnect) RAID controller that does not have SCSI channels on board. Instead, it uses the on-board SCSI channels of the server board to implement a RAID solution. "Every server platform has SCSI on it," says Croteau. "If a customer wants to add a RAID array to a server, a RAID controller is needed. Those RAID controllers, which include a disk interface, are very expensive. VARs can now add a zero-channel adapter and use the disk controller in the server. This allows VARs to minimize the cost of RAID because the controller they add no longer needs to have a disk interface on it."
When IT budgets seemed to be unlimited, IT administrators purchased whatever solution was best for the job. But when IT budgets are cut, those same administrators have to look for ways to meet their storage needs at a lower cost. Those administrators will look at less expensive solutions they would not have considered in the past. The VAR's job will be to explain to customers how they can continue to get enterprise-like storage solutions at a much lower cost.