ATA disks redefine storage

A new class of products is redefining many long-held rules of enterprise storage, from vendor pricing to strategies for data management.

Several vendors recently have introduced ATA disk systems, based on the low-cost drives long used mainly in desktop PCs. ATA, which stands for Advanced Technology Attachment, are also commonly referred to as IDE, or integrated drive electronics, drives.

For the small and branch office market, storage newcomer Promicro Systems recently introduced the ProStore Backup Appliance. The product bundles an ATA-based network-attached storage server, an eight-cartridge automated Digital Linear Tape (DLT) tape autoloader and a backup and recovery software package called Integrity from Avail Solutions LLC. The plug-and-play data protection solution starts at $8,000, yet offers a fairly sophisticated use of storage media.

The system is configured to automatically route backup data to the ProStore Backup Appliance, where it is held temporarily on online disk, then replicated to offline tape. If primary data is lost or damaged, a copy can be retrieved from the most readily available location — disk or tape — and sent directly to the restore location without having to traverse the storage hierarchy.

"Because of the high turnover in government, the ease of use [of this product] is a perfect fit," said Joseph Keith, director of business development at Promicro Systems. "You can set up some pretty advanced storage hierarchies without all the expertise you would need for the higher-end products and keep that work in house. You can even manage it remotely from a central office."

Another recently introduced ATA product designed for small offices and workgroups is Dell Computer Corp.'s PowerVault 725N, a network-attached storage server that sports four ATA hard drives, for a total storage capacity of up to 480G. The entry-level model with 160G of storage capacity starts at $1,799.

Dell previously resold an ATA-based array built by Snap Appliance, but this is the company's first in-house storage system that uses the PC disk technology, according to Marc Padovani, product manager of Dell network-attached storage systems. "The 725N is much improved over the previous generation, with enterprise-class features like dual failover Gigabit Ethernet controllers and hot swap ATA drives that you can switch in while the system is still operational," he said.

ATA systems are not relegated to low-end storage systems. One of the pioneers in the ATA field, Nexsan Technologies, recently began shipping its largest ATA array ever, the InfiniSAN ATABeast. Starting at about $40,000 for a 13.4 terabyte configuration, the ATABeast can pack up to 134 terabytes of capacity in a single data center rack.

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