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IBM's new technology a smooth drive

Big Blue is using anti-vibration technology to improve the performance of fast, dense hard drives and to try to regain lost market share.

IBM plans to unveil a new server hard drive Tuesday that takes the shakes out of complex technology and just might help put Big Blue back on solid ground in the drive market.

The company's Ultrastar 146Z10 hard drive incorporates anti-vibration technology that IBM calls "rotational vibration safeguard"--technology designed to improve the performance of increasingly denser and faster hard drives.

Drives are made up of components called platters and heads. Platters are the magnetic, rotating plates that store data, while heads pull the data off the rotating platters. To improve performance, manufacturers have increased the speeds at which platters rotate, and in turn, the rate at which heads pull information from those platters.

Yet in situations where servers are stacked atop one another, vibrations can disrupt other hard drives in the stack. The Ultrastar hard drive compensates for the shaking and works to cancel it out, IBM says. The new 146GB drive offers a speed of 10,000rpm.

The Ultrastar drive represents one piece of IBM's plan to recapture the disk market by focusing on research and technological innovation, rather than on the nuts and bolts of manufacturing and marketing products. In April, IBM and Hitachi formed a joint venture under which the companies planned to combine their drive divisions. Hitachi owns 70 percent of the venture, while IBM's role focuses on developing new technologies.

There is good reason for Big Blue to explore new strategies in a market where it has quickly fallen out of favor. IBM's market share in the server hard drive market has toppled from 37 percent in 1999 to just 10 percent in the first quarter of 2002, according to research firm IDC. Seagate, the leader in the market, claims 57 percent market share. No. 2 Fujitsu claims 24 percent. Analysts say IBM is looking for a leg up.

With the Ultrastar, "IBM is looking to rebound," said IDC analyst Dave Reinsel.

IBM executives agree that the company needs to make its mark first with new technology. Bill Healy, IBM vice president of marketing, says the lag time in getting products to market is what has hurt the company in the past, "rather than technical or quality issues."