3Ware to ship first serial ATA RAID controller

3Ware Inc. is planning to announce a new serial ATA RAID controller that uses a combination of cheap disk technology and high-performance redundancy to give it many of the attributes of more expensive SCSI-attached drives.

The Mountain View, Calif., vendor is unveiling its Escalade 8500-4, 8500-8 and 8500-12 series RAID controllers, RAID management software and embedded RAID operating system, along with the fourth generation of its StorSwitch switched RAID architecture.

The Escalade 8500 series supports between four and 12 Ultra ATA/133 drives with a single PCI card, for up to 2TB of disk storage at about half the cost of SCSI-attached disk. The controller supports RAID levels 0, 1, 10 and 5 and unconfigured hard disks. The controller allows for hot-swappable and spare drives and runs on Microsoft Windows 98, NT, 2000 and XP and Linux.

According to Bob Zimmerman, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., ATA serial drive technology for the enterprise data centre appears to be most promising for near-line storage.

“If you’re looking at a box that can be sold profitably for 1.5 to 2 cents a megabyte as opposed to SCSI at 3 to 5 cents [at the bottom end] and 7 to 15 cents a megabyte for enterprise-class storage, yeah, there are some real price advantages,” he said. “It’s not going to push the [EMC] Symmetrics out the door but is likely to be good for the immediate [disk-to-disk] backup solution.”

Serial ATA’s road map began last August with its introduction as a finalized specification with initial data transfer speeds of 1.5G bit/sec. The technology’s road map has that speed increasing to 3G bit/sec. and eventually 6G bit/sec. during the next 10 years.

“We’re very much of the philosophy that ATA drives today are far more reliable than SCSI drives were 10 years ago. It’s just a case of perception rather than reality that they’re not reliable,” said Barbara Murphy, product marketing manager at 3Ware.

Under direct-attached storage conditions, an ATA drive can’t put out the same performance as SCSI or Fibre Channel-attached drives. The spindle head of the drives runs at about 15,000 rpm in the latter, vs. 7,000 rpm in an ATA drive.

By using a switched, serial architecture, 3Ware allows more than one drive at a time to send data across the internal bus, which greatly enhances the throughput and ability to configure the disk.

“We have the ability to take data from each drive and connect it to the PCI bus in such a way that all ATAs can be aggregated,” said Mike Wentz, director of product marketing at 3Ware.

3Ware is also announcing the latest incarnation of its RAID management software, Version 7.5, which offers a browser-based array management utility for local and remote management and monitoring of arrays and their disks. The Escalade 8500 Series controllers range in price from US$449 to $849, depending on the number of ports.