Storage Area Networks are welcoming a steady wave of new, tiered disk drive products that blend high capacity and high performance, using a hybrid technology that’s been dubbed FATA.

FATA, or Fibre Attached Technology Adapted, is the medium where expensive, high performance Fibre Channel (FC) technology co-exists with high capacity SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) disk drives. And it’s fast proving a popular and reliable new option in enterprise class storage.

“FATA is filling a real gap in the market right now,” said Brian Garrett, an analyst and technical director at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) laboratory. “It’s become an important tool in providing ILM (information lifecycle management) to customers.”

The ability to use low-cost, high-capacity archiving (nearline) drives along with higher performing primary enterprise drives (SCSI or FC) within the same storage infrastructure has been greeted by the IT industry as a compelling and exciting development.

Seagate Technology and its major development partners in enterprise storage disk drives, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and EMC Corporation, have been vigorously engineering and designing over the past year in response to the growing trend.

Based on disk drives from Seagate, the 400GB and 500GB FATA drives from HP provide double the capacity and cost 50 per cent less per gigabyte than high-performance FC drives.

“Seagate has been working closely with [for example] HP to meet their customers’ needs for native FC tiered storage,” said Seagate’s Pete Steege, senior marketing manager.

“Our new drive family is the NL35 Series — nearline-ready drives with high capacity, low cost-per-GB, and native SATA or FC interfaces. HP’s new FATA drive leverages our NL35 Series FC technology.”

Since the end of last year, the industry has adopted new products based on the NL35 from EMC Corp. and Xiotech, a medium-sized company that sprang up from Seagate. HP has announced its FATA versions for release later this year.

“We work closely with our OEM customers like HP and EMC so that our drive technology meets their specific technical needs and business goals,” added Steege. “In some cases, modifications are made to our products to support these requirements.”

Parag Suri, HP Canada’s category business manager, StorageWorks, says this kind of partnership helps bring about the best technology, and at a reduced cost of deployment.

“The industry is really tightly integrated and our partnership with Seagate is strong,” said Suri. “We’ve noticed that the trend is to offload reference information from the high-performance FC drive onto the bigger capacity SATA drives.

“Customers want to be able to segment their data according to how frequently the information needs to be accessed and also how quickly accessible it is.”

The Skinny on FATA

Hewlett-Packard’s FATA drives bridge the gap between SATA tiered storage and Fibre Channel storage. As well, EMC announced the release of its Symmetrix DMX-3, or “low-cost Fibre Channel” drives. Both HP and EMC’s disks are engineered on Seagate’s NL35 Series.

The Fibre Channel Industry Association has described FATA as a hybrid technology co-developed by Seagate, HP and Hitachi that matches capacity with performance. SATA disks can store up to 500GB, but the drives spin much slower than the 10K-15K r.p.m. FC disks. Fibre Channel stores only 150GB by comparison and is three times the cost of SATA.

“There used to be reliability questions over SATA as well,” said ESG analyst Garrett. “But the difference now is more in performance queuing, the ability to do multiple things in parallel, such as accepting new commands while the system is busy seeking other data. The storage needs to be accessible all the time.”

The FATA drives are designed specifically for enterprise-class environments and SAN deployments where bulk storage and lower price per gigabyte are more important than access time.

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