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WD to sink teeth into enterprise drive market

Velociraptor-based unit likely

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Comment Western Digital's coming enterprise hard drive is likely to be built on a Velociraptor base.

WD has said it is going to enter the enterprise hard drive market, building on its existing enterprise-class SATA 3.5-inch drives, as it terms them. These are bulk storage drives and not fast response ones. Seagate currently dominates the enterprise HDD market with its line of 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch (SFF or small form factor) drives. WD indicated in July that an enterprise-class, 2.5-inch, SAS drive was coming.

Financial analyst conversations with WD indicate that this is still the case. The only drive in WD's SFF product line with enterprise speed is Velociraptor, which spins at 10K and has a 16MB cache. Its capacity is limited to 300GB. The slower, 7,200rpm Scorpio Black holds up to 320GB while the even slower, at 5,400rpm, Scorpio Blue stores 640GB in standard SFF drive bay, 2-platter form, and 1TB in 3-platter form.

Seagate has two enterprise SFF product lines. Constellation is a nearline or tier 2 product, spinning at 7,200rpm, and having a 283Gbit/sq in area density and capacity up to 500GB. It offers an SAS 2 (6Gbit/s) interface. The faster Savvio drives come in 10,000 or 15,000rpm form. The 10K.3 version comes with 252Gbit/sq in areal density and 146 to 300GB capacity with a SAS 2 interface. The faster 15K.2 offers 73 to 146GB capacity from its 237.1Gbit/sq in areal density, and also uses SAS 2.

Hitachi GST has just announced a 15,000rpm Ultrastar C15K147 2.5-inch drive. It holds 73 or 147GB on its two platters and has a large cache at 64MB. This drive matches the capacity of Seagate's Savvio 15K.2.

This is WD's competitive landscape in this space.

A back-of-an-envelope WD design for an enterprise SAS drive could be to take its 300GB Velociraptor, add a SAS 2 interface, and so produce a Savvio 10K.2-class product. Spinning it up to 15K would entail a capacity reduction. With Seagate's Savvio 15k.2 and the Ultrastar CK15K147 offering 146/147GB then WD would have to offer at least that to be competitive, plus an equivalent 64MB cache for performance reasons.

A different tack would be to go after the enterprise bulk 2.5-inch storage market and build on the Scorpio Blue base. There WD has a 640GB, 2-platter product, using the SATA 2Gbit/s interface and spinning at 5400rpm. Speed that up to 7200rpm and adding a SAS 2 interface would get WD into the Seagate Constellation area. If it could keep the 640GB capacity that would give it a nice edge.

Our betting is on Enterprise-raptor, 10,000rpm being very likely and a 15,000rpm model being less likely, although a 15K spin-speed would fit Velociraptor's performance image. We think it will show itself before mid-2010.

WD also told the analyst, Stifel Nocolaus' Aaron Rakers, that "it is currently working on the development of enterprise-class SSDs, which are expected to launch in (fiscal) 2011." This would confirm the suspected development direction of its currently limited application SiliconDrive III solid state drives, described as "embedded system and data streaming applications, such as multimedia content delivery systems and data centre media appliances."

WD doesn't comment on unannounced products so we haven't asked the company for a comment on either the enterprise HDD or the enterprise SSD. ®

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