Evolving disk interface boosts storage efficiency

Though the specifications are not yet complete, products using early versions of the new SATA II storage disk interface are promising superior performance.

Storage disk interface technology began with parallel ATA, and then Serial ATA I, and both found places in desktops and home computers.

Now the storage industry is moving toward a new disk interface called Serial ATA (SATA) II.

SATA makes NAS a more viable opportunity for backup and archival applications as well as just a standard file server.
John Webster
Senior AnalystData Mobility Group
SATA II could provide Windows enterprise servers new drives that allow speedier connections and native command queuing (NCQ) using an algorithm, which determines the most efficient way to execute commands.

Windows shops will see the greatest benefit in the network-attached storage (NAS) arena. Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003, for example, could run on machines with SATA II drives. "SATA makes NAS a more viable opportunity for backup and archival applications as well as just a standard file server. It opens up some doors to Windows storage," said John Webster, senior analyst with Data Mobility Group LLC, in Nashua, N.H.

SATA I drives have been used in the enterprise as a second-tier storage device, not responsible for storing a primary copy of data, Webster said. "SATA is moving it up the food chain, making it more reliable, making it high performing so it can support a wide array of applications," he said.

SATA II technology is still nebulous, as vendors and the Serial ATA International Organization struggle to define the specification. SATA technology would potentially include higher speed, NCQ, asynchronous signal recovery, soft settings preservation, power management utilities and PHY event counters.

While many vendors hawk products that transfer information at 3 GBps under the SATA II label, the SATA International Organization says on its Web site that transfer speed isn't the only defining feature of SATA II.

"At the low end, the very squishy definition of SATA II is going to cause confusion," said Mike Kahn, managing director of the Clipper Group Inc., a Wellesley, Mass., consulting firm. Drives that have NCQ and run at 1.5 GBps and drives that run at 3 GBps that have soft settings preservation could both be called SATA II drives, but "you have to be careful that you match what your parameters are for performance improvement," Kahn said.

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