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HP promotes smaller server drives

Company's server group begins promoting two shifts in storage technology: smaller hard drives and IP-based networked storage.

Hewlett-Packard's server group began promoting two shifts in storage technology this week: smaller hard drives and IP-based networking technology, which has the potential to be more mainstream than other types of networked storage.

Hard drives in servers today are 3.5 inches wide, but HP plans to start shipping a new generation of 2.5-inch drives starting in May, said Paul Miller, vice president of industry-standard server marketing for the company. The drives are slightly thicker than the models used in notebook computers.

Moving to the new drives will mean customers can pack twice as many drives in the same amount of server space, Miller said, increasing both performance and capacity. In partnership with Seagate, HP plans to complete the transition to the new drives within 12 months across its server lines.

Storage capacity is in demand, Miller said: While HP's server shipments have been growing at about 20 percent annually in recent years, the amount of internal storage capacity has grown at twice that rate.

HP's ProLiant family leads the server market when it comes to mainstream models with x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. Introducing new technology quickly is important as the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company tries to fend off competition from Dell, IBM and comparative newcomer Sun Microsystems.

Dell and Sun declined to comment on when they planned to make the change to the new drive standard. IBM didn't respond to requests for comment.

Making networked storage mainstream
HP also plans to start including network cards by the end of March that can communicate not only with standard TCP/IP networks but which can also piggyback data storage traffic on that network through an IP-based technology called iSCSI, creating what's known as a storage area network. The network cards employ technology from communications chipmaker Broadcom and also hardware called a TCP offload engine (TOE) to accelerate the network data processing.

Storage area networks make it easier for multiple servers to share the same storage system. Most storage area networks today use a higher-end standard called Fibre Channel, but iSCSI will open up the market to a much larger group of customers that already use TCP/IP and don't want to install an entirely separate network.

"We're really trying to set the pace," Miller said. "Customers are starting to think about this unified fabric approach."

New drive changes
The new drives will be available with two different interfaces. One of these, serial ATA (SATA), has been in the market for lower-end drives for more than a year. The other, serial attached SCSI (SAS) is the newest revamp of a the higher-end SCSI drive standard.

Because SATA drives can be controlled by SAS hardware, both drive types can be used in the same server. Consequently, Miller expects customers to mix them.

For example, customers can store infrequently used information such as the operating system on cheaper SATA drives and use the faster and more reliable SAS drives for data storage. Or they could store primary copies of data on SAS drives and back it up to SATA drives.

The smaller drives initially will cost the same amount per gigabyte as current models, Miller said. However, SAS drives' 10,000 RPM rotational speed--which corresponds to how quickly they fulfill a processor's request for data--initially will be slower than the 15,000 RPM of 3.5-inch drives. That performance should equalize by the end of the year, Miller said.