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When Selecting Storage Systems that Use SATA Disk Drives, It’s Caveat Emptor

A few years ago, companies wondered “What if?” regarding whether the Serial ATA (SATA) disk drives found in consumer-grade PCs would eventually find their way into enterprise-class storage systems. Now, the question no longer is “What if?” but “Where will it stop?” SATA disk drives have found their way into existing SAN and NAS storage systems as well as emerging Cloud and Grid storage architectures. As this has occurred, SATA disk drives have evolved to keep pace with new demands that companies of all sizes are placing on them.

It seems everyone knows the benefits of SATA: High capacity at an affordable price. But what is not always so evident is that not all SATA drives are created equal. When purchasing storage systems that use SATA, it is best to assume a “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) approach. The reason: features on SATA disk drives vary, sometimes greatly. These differences include RPMs, reliability of the drives’ mechanical components, AFR (Annualized Failure Rate), MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) and error recovery methods.

The bottom line: SATA drives are like anything else; you get what you pay for. Because of this, companies need to ensure that when buying storage systems that use SATA disk drives, the drives must be rated properly for the demands that will inevitably be placed upon them.

This gives rise to the debate over whether SATA disk drives truly are ready to handle the rigors of enterprise storage. To answer this question, a new type of SATA disk drive has emerged. “Enterprise-class SATA” simply refers to the new SATA II standard. Drives that meet this standard have passed increasingly vigorous testing processes to deliver the increased data integrity, reliability and performance that enterprises need and expect. Some advantages of enterprise-class SATA include:

  • Higher duty cycle environment testing
  • Larger data cache for improved performance
  • Improved internal mechanical components with fluid dynamic bearings for better, long-term reliability
  • Increased MTBF specs that exceed one million hours

But just because SATA II disk drives are available does not mean every storage vendor uses them. The question that companies buying storage systems need to answer is “When does it matter?” If just looking to use the system as a target for backup, it may matter less. But for businesses that are looking to use their storage systems for a multitude of purposes including network file services, backup target and as a partner in replicating data between sites, the reliability and performance of the disk drives in the storage system become an important point of differentiation. Overland Storage, for example, has included enterprise-class SATA disk drives in its Snap Server 620 since they were available, so customers can confidently address their specific needs.

But understand, not every situation calls for enterprise-class SATA II disk drives. Most applications targeted for consumers currently do not utilize them as SATA II drives come at a slight premium over first generation, consumer-grade SATA disk drives. But just as companies were asking “What if?” a few years ago in regard to whether SATA was a viable option, now they need to ask “What if I don’t choose a storage system with enterprise-class SATA drives?” In the case of SATA, you get what you pay for. By choosing a solution such as Overland’s Snap Server 620, which uses enterprise-class SATA disk drives, the result is less need to wonder or worry about the integrity, reliability or performance of the system on which data is stored.

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