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Hitachi Global Storage Technologies is claiming its Ultrastar 10K300 is the industry's first 300GB enterprise hard drive. Due next quarter in Ultra 320 SCSI or 2Gb Fibre Channel forms, the 10,000 RPM drive has five platters and 10 heads, and can sustain 89MB/sec.

Although described as a server drive, it is really intended for the storage subsystem market, where it is the likes of EMC, IBM and HDS which really define what makes a drive enterprise-class. They also want high storage densities to quote on their sales literature, if nothing else.

Are massive enterprise drives really a good idea, though? It puts a lot of capacity on a single spindle behind a single I/O port, which can be a bit like trying to suck an ocean through a straw.

Quizzed on this, Hitachi GST's VP of marketing, Ian Vogelesang, acknowledges that the 300GB drives will do best in read-mostly applications where the access density is low. He adds that it is up to HDS & co. to transparently stripe data across multiple spindles to take advantage of the available capacity without sacrificing performance.

"On high-end subsystems you could have 1000 disks, and most are still high capacity drives, with a proportion of high performance," he says.

A natural home for Serial-ATA, then? He argues otherwise, and that it is not just a case of protecting Hitachi's higher profit margins on the enterprise kit.

"There isn't much history for ATA in the enterprise, or for what happens to those drives when you pound them 24x7," he says. "So try them out first in low-usage applications."

Smaller disk, faster mechanics

Hitachi is also lining up with Seagate on the benefits of 2.5 inch small form factor (SFF) drives for blade servers and the like, but it is going straight to 3Gb/sec Serial Attach SCSI (SAS), whereas Seagate plans Ultra320 and Fibre versions too for its Savvio range.

"The advantage is high I/Os per second in a smaller physical space, and with lower power and acoustics. The smaller disk also gives faster mechanical performance," says Vogelesang

He expects desktop PCs to adopt SFF as well, for much the same reasons. "We can provide 40GB on one platter with one head in 3.5 inch, or one platter two heads in 2.5 inch, he says. "Everyone has to get into 2.5 inch or die."

Hitachi will demo SFF drives at next month's SAS Plugfest in New Hampshire. Don't expect to see them on sale until the end of the year though.

Of course, Hitachi GST is the result of last year's merger of the hard disk operations of IBM and Hitachi. Vogelesang says that although the price Hitachi paid for the IBM operations was criticised at the time, it is now second only to Seagate in revenue and profitability and has a wider product range, from 1 inch to 3.5 inch.

One reason for the profitability is that the combined operation finally gets past the break-even point on manufacturing versus R&D cost, but it comes from closures too. Hitachi shut down IBM European storage plants and now does all its volume manufacturing in Asia.

Vogelesang adds that more of the storage industry will move to Asia as more hard drives sell into consumer devices, from digital video recorders and camcorders through portable DVD players to cars.

"The explosive growth [for hard disks] is in consumer electronics, and most of that is portable," he says, offering the example of a mini MP3 player with a 1 inch Hitachi Microdrive in it, or a camcorder with a removable 1.8 inch drive that has ten times the capacity of a DVD.

"Hitachi has the advantage of being a Japanese company. Sony and the other consumer electronics companies have their R&D in Japan too, so their engineers can talk to ours. We also have our own consumer division and design-in experience, so we can offer them design-in services." ®

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