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View from the Hill:- Why Good Fuel Consumption Doesn't Sell ATA Network Storage

March 2003 by Zsolt Kerekes
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Zsolt Kerekes - Publisher
Zsolt Kerekes is editor of

Recently companies like EMC and Spinnaker Networks have joined the slow moving ATA disk network storage bandwaggon. This is the one in which which you can buy a SAN or NAS stuffed with low cost ATA connected disks, instead of faster and more expensive SCSI or fibre-channel models.

The sales pitch goes something like this. The basic low cost disk drives which you find in a new PC give adequate performance running at 7,200 RPM. Although you can buy disks which run more than twice as fast - the cost penalty is not worthwhile in many real-life applications.

If the accountant is the person in charge of buying storage in your organisation, then this argument put forward by EMC says it all. The ATA populated CLARiiON can slash "50% of the list price in large systems configurations". ...And a 50% reduction off an EMC price is not an inconsiderable sum.

This is not a new idea. Nexsan Technologies was the first company to put its head over the parapet a couple of years ago. The idea that anyone might knowingly want to buy a disk storage system which was not the absolutely fastest was novel at the time.

Surely, when you buy a new computer system you want it to be as fast as you can afford. This is a classic buyer argument. After all, you have to live with the system for many years, during which demand will increase and technology will pass you by. Not necessarily so - said Nexsan. There are lots of situations when the disk storage doesn't have to be so fast - such as archiving data onto disk, instead of tape for example. That was still a theoretical consideration to users a few years ago, because no one was doing this very much.

But the germ of this idea spread and took root. Last year some bigger manufacturers started doing pretty much the same thing. StorageTek called their product BladeStore. Network Appliance called theirs NearStore, while ASACA went one step further with its 48TB FireFly by using Serial ATA hard drives, which can be switched off to save power until the data is actually needed.

Despite all that, the ATA network storage market has been slow to take off, and I think that owes more to emotional factors than the drag from a sluggish economy.

When you buy a car, you know that most of the time it will be parked and doing zero miles per hour. When you're actually driving, the combination of traffic congestion and speed limits, means that you may only average 20 MPH in the town and maybe no better than 50 MPH on the open road. But most drivers still feel more attracted to a Ferrari than a Skoda.

I'm a cautious (read - slow) driver. And I'm very happy with my Renault Clio which my wife mockingly refers to as being powered by a rubber band. It is true, that recently I borrowed my wife's Audi A6, in which the engine alone cost more than my entire car, and found I could comfortably knock 20 minutes off the 2 hour journey time to see my sister, even while keeping to the speed limits and sticking with the winding cross country route which I prefer. That's because, with the Audi, I could overtake slow moving tractors or horse cars. That's something which the rubber band powered Clio can't safely do.

And maybe that kind of worry is a factor slowing down the new ATA network storage market.

The end to end performance of most systems is not driven by the average speed, but by peaks and bottlenecks.

Even if the new low cost ATA disk based network storage systems have been purchased for one application, the fact is organizations change, and there's the suspicion that the accountant will say - That's it! No more IT budget this year. Out of necessity you could end up redeploying it your main online storage. It may be faster than what you have in place today, and even if it does what is claimed when doing an incremental backup there will still be the niggling doubt that it will get you up that hill fast enough when you really put your foot down in an emergency.

It may take more than numerical arguments to lift this market off to the next level. That may only happen when there are enough pioneers out there who have the experience of using them and can share their experiences. Until that time users are no more likely to buy storage systems based on gigabytes per dollar, than they buy cars based on miles per gallon fuel efficiency. Emotion, not logic, sometimes gives the right answers.

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