Inside IT Storage

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Shrinking enterprise storage form factors?

In a recent StorageNewsletter.com story, an argument was presented that SSDs and HDDs are different technologies and are therefore going to follow different paths with regard to form factors. Because an SSD is not a mechanical device with rotating platters, it is less constrained as to any form factor restrictions. Makes sense, and while it’s certainly true that SSDs and HDDs are different technologies, it seems to me however that the form factor argument needs to be more about the storage use and application than anything else. For the enterprise, that means the discussion needs to turn to whether we’re talking about servers or storage arrays.

With servers, and especially smaller basic models, we can see how storage form factor or what’s inside the box perhaps wouldn’t matter as much in some instances. Integrating solid state storage can be done directly to the motherboard itself or through a motherboard’s PCIe slot. Advocates of these storage methods state that the advantage is speed when you eliminate the use of a specific storage interface like SAS. But then the downside is of course limited scalability or features like hot swapping functions for the storage. Some may argue still that the tradeoff for the speed is worth it. Certainly remains up for debate.

Now moving to the massive amounts of storage that sits outside of the server and on storage arrays, one can’t imagine anything but the use of a consistent and standard form factor. The core system behind an array sees volumes of storage, and doesn’t distinguish between whether it’s an HDD or SSD doing the work. With drive arrays, having consistency of form factors will help IT administrators not only maintain cleaner, consistent organization of their systems, but also enable more options for any necessary hot-swap/hot-spare or other tasks in these mostly rack-based systems.

Seagate introduced the industry’s first 2.5-inch enterprise HDD, the Savvio, in 2004. While it has, and continues to be a successful product, the change in infrastructure required to support using the new form factor (and do note that enterprise-class 2.5-inch drives have different z-height dimensions than notebook 2.5-inch drives) did take time. It was six years later in fact, in 2010, when shipments of Seagate enterprise-class 2.5-inch form factor HDDs began to outsell 3.5-inch models.

With Seagate’s release of Pulsar 2.5-inch SSDs, they are a perfect high-performance complement to a tiered storage architecture based on this form factor and platform. And now with all storage companies having 2.5-inch storage platforms in qualification and/or production, this will undoubtedly remain the top choice for the enterprise for years to come.

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