Magazine Article | April 1, 2004

Q&A: Vendors Of Serial ATA

Source: Business Solutions Magazine

The low cost and wide array of applications in the serial ATA (advanced technology attachment) market are spurring new markets for VARs.

Business Solutions, April 2004

1. What's the latest in the serial ATA (advanced technology attachment) market?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: We believe the most significant trend is that serial ATA is being viewed as a tape replacement or a data mirroring point. While some customers are using tape and disk together to perform backup, many believe the speed and low cost of serial ATA will allow them to replace tape solutions altogether.

Phil Roussey, Bell Microproducts: Our solutions architects have assisted customers with incorporating serial ATA in place of SCSI (small computer system interface) and sometimes Fibre Channel. But we would caution that this is only recommended in non-mission-critical system designs and only when the application is appropriate. The solution is popular because densities are higher and prices are lower for the same or greater capacity. This offers customers real economic value.

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: Companies that have been providers of storage solutions for small to medium customers have until recently only been able to offer more expensive SCSI and Fibre Channel solutions. With serial ATA, those companies are now able to offer a storage solution with similar features and performance but at a more desirable price point.

Joe Serra, Tech Data Corp: We are seeing this technology get some traction as a result of the cost of the solution versus other alternatives. At the same time, there is reduced complexity. In the past, customers needing capacity would add more servers or storage. Now those same customers can add capacity in a much more cost-effective manner. Serial ATA also provides quicker access to archived data.

2. Are there any new hot verticals purchasing serial ATA products?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: We believe the hottest new markets for serial ATA solutions will be video imaging, medical, and security.

Phil Roussey, Bell Microproducts: Disk-to-disk nearline backup is one of the hottest areas of growth for serial ATA. Fixed content storage is another area, as are general purpose RAID (redundant array of independent disks) applications where guaranteed high-availability is not critical.

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: There aren't necessarily new hot markets, but we do see a significant level of interest across multiple market segments to enhance their product offerings. As this technology continues to gain traction, I think we will see more storage vendors coming out with serial ATA offerings.

Joe Serra, Tech Data Corp: Financial and healthcare are two of the most obvious because of the new regulations and requirements in those industries. Regulation and legislation often lead to increased storage needs. Even though some of these requirements have been around a couple of years, they are only now being enforced. Organizations that procrastinated now have a short amount of time in which to comply.

3. How and why have the costs changed for this technology?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: Serial ATA is a faster interface than EIDE (enhanced integrated drive electronics) with other performance enhancements. The serial ATA connector on the drive also eases backplane design.

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: The technology lends itself to direct and indirect cost savings. Direct savings are based on being able to use serial ATA in environments that couldn't accept parallel ATA-based products. Enterprise technologies can more than meet the applications' requirements, but at a price point that is significantly higher than that of parallel ATA. At the same time, indirect cost savings will come from the ease of design and management, more efficient cooling modules, and new controller technologies.

Joe Serra, Tech Data Corp: The evolution of the technology is what has been driving down the price of serial ATA. Years ago, the mantra in storage was more capacity, faster, and cheaper. Manufacturers are trying to evolve and simplify the technology while providing the same value that used to come only in more complex systems. This trend has been driving down the price.

4. What types of VARs could easily add serial ATA products to their line?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: VARs working with VERITAS Fujitsu Softek for volume management could use serial ATA arrays as mirroring or secondary storage points. VARs could also sell this technology as a tape replacement or as intermediary storage.

Phil Roussey, Bell Microproducts: We believe all storage solutions providers can offer this technology. We also believe that networking VARs will be deploying serial ATA as well. This will happen when they begin the implementation of iSCSI (Internet SCSI).

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: VARs that traditionally have not offered storage solutions will now be able to do so regardless of the environments in which they operate.

5. Are there any ATA features that many end users are looking for today?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: We believe end users are looking for iSCSI, Fibre Channel, SCSI, and NAS (network attached storage) interfaces for their serial ATA RAID arrays.

Phil Roussey, Bell Microproducts: Customers are looking for price and capacity improvements over previous technologies. IT managers are being asked to produce increased storage capacity with flat or shrinking budgets. Serial ATA is a good step in that direction where it can be applied.

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: Customers who require zero downtime will evaluate serial ATA. It will soon offer features such as hot-swap/hot-plug and command queueing. This functionality is traditionally only available in enterprise-class drives.

Joe Serra, Tech Data Corp: Aside from the cost savings, the other attractive feature of serial ATA is faster access to data. With serial ATA, users have more of an online storage solution. Data is available to be quickly accessed, as opposed to data that is stored nearline or offline on tape and optical solutions.

6. What do VARs and integrators need to know (e.g. technical expertise) about selling or integrating serial ATA products?

Kevin Schoonover, Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions: There are different ways to use serial ATA. VARs need to determine if they will use serial ATA integrated within a vendor like EMC (Hopkinton, MA) or if they will use a stand-alone device like those available from Adaptec (Milpitas, CA).

Phil Roussey, Bell Microproducts: Serial ATA is not for all applications. There has been a lot of work done on determining the appropriate applications for serial ATA, and VARs should become familiar with that research. This is also a great opportunity for VARs to improve their margins. Serial ATA is a tremendous value for the dollar.

Michael Gaeta, Avnet Applied Computing Solutions: VARs need to understand that they can't place serial ATA solutions in a true 24/7 environment. The drive technology is not currently intended to meet the same specifications as a true enterprise device. But, if a customer requires a solution that is not 24/7 but needs similar features and increased performance, serial ATA is an attractive alternative.

Joe Serra, Tech Data Corp: I think VARs need to pick a partner and make sure they understand that partner's technology and solutions. Whomever they choose to work with, VARs need to make sure they get training and fully understand the technologies they are selling. As a distributor, our job is to help recruit VARs that we believe will derive value from the solutions.