2.5" disks to become new standard in 2009

2.5" disks to become new standard in 2009

Summary: When I first started selling storage, 14" disk drives were all the rage. Then came 9", 8", 5.

TOPICS: Storage, Hardware

When I first started selling storage, 14" disk drives were all the rage. Then came 9", 8", 5.25" and then 3.5" drives - where we've been stuck for the last 15 years - even though they have gotten thinner.

All this shrinkage is courtesy of drive vendor's incredible engineering work. You don't know it - and engineering-dominated vendors hardly think to talk about it - but disk platter feature sizes are smaller than Intel's latest 45 nm fabs can produce.

And Intel's chips aren't rotating 250 times per second, either.

A Lotus Elan vs a Bentley Type-R Disks are mechanical devices. Making them smaller as magnetic densities increase has many benefits:

  • Smaller components have less mass, so motors and actuators can be smaller. Greater shock resistance, less damping and head settling time too.
  • Greater disk I/O density per cubic inch - get more work done in less space.
  • Power, cooling and packaging are all smaller too. Even though data centers don't much care about green computing, it is a nice added benefit.

Translation: the Lotus corners better than the Bentley and uses a lot fewer resources in the process.

The industry is quietly preparing 3.5" drives will be with us for years to come, but the signs of the coming change are unmistakable:

  • 3 years ago the capacity difference between volume 2.5" and 3.5" drives was 4-5x. 160 GB vs 30-40GB. The delta has come down to 2-3x: 1 TB vs 320 GB - and soon 500 GB.
  • High-performance 2.5" drives, both 10k and 15k, with high-end FC and SAS interfaces are now available.
  • The $/GB delta is also dropping. They don't have to be equal because the lower power, cooling, size and greater durabililty translate into real economic benefits for all but the most price-sensitive users.

The first 2.5" arrays are appearing Atrato, Xiotech and RAID Inc. have all announced 2.5"-based storage arrays that offer some compelling advantages over 3.5" arrays.

  • Atrato puts 160 spindles into a 3 rack unit box
  • RAID Inc puts 12 15k drives into 1 rack unit pizza box
  • Xiotech doubles the number of spindles - with the same power and cooling - over their 3.5" version of their new ISE

The Storage Bits take Smaller disks and smaller arrays are Very Good Things. We get more I/Os for a given power, cooling and volume investment. The drives get more reliable. The $/GB goes up, but volume production soon pushes it back down.

So I'm calling it: by the end of 2009 most new storage arrays will be announcing with 2.5" drives. High-end workstations, like the next-gen Mac Pro, will be both smaller while containing more drive bays.

Low-end consumer desktops will be the last to transition, but even they will by the end of 2011. The last 3.5" disk will roll off the assembly line in 2014.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Storage, Hardware

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  • Each has it's place

    This is true:
    The Lotus corners better than the Bentley and uses a lot fewer resources in the process.

    This is also true:
    The Bentley will carry 4 adults and their luggage comfortably.

    I just got through updating some systems with new drives:
    I added a 250g to my laptop to replace the 120, cost $134.
    I added a 1Tb drive to my DVR system, cost $178.
    Capacity difference 400%
    Cost difference 32%
    Now I agree that I can't use the 1Tb drive in my laptop and the only thing stopping me from using the laptop drives in the desktop is that pesky capacity-to-cost ratio.
    • wooooooooooooo 178 for a 1 TB drive??

      where? when? how?

      i saw $239 on newegg.
      • Um, They're Going For A $90 On NewEgg


        ...you got ripped off if you spent $178, unless it's some uber incredible magical drive that's like 10,000 rpms or something.

        ...or if it's TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT!

        Yeesh, sometimes I'm really annoyed be the way ZD.net throws up these old necroposted articles like they're new stuff. They show up in the "Top Rated" sections a lot of times, so you just blindly click thinkin yer gettin some fresh article only to find you've suddenly done the time warp back two thousand and four. Honestly, if an article is more than a six months old, and *ESPECIALLY* if it's a tech related article...yeah...DUMP IT! It's not news anymore, trust me. It's garbage, plain and simple. Stick it an old/archive pile if you want, but don't jumble it all in with new and fresh articles just for the sake of confusing everything and everybody.
  • Solid-State

    I know that solid state drives are also a trend, due to power and heat concerns. What percentage of these drives will be solid-state in 2009?
    • Solid-State

      I would say that until the price comes down, we won't see wide-spread adoption of solid-state. The last time I priced solid-state drives (about a year ago), they ran $1/GB.
      • I wish!

        That is the cheapest price I have seen. The problem with solid state drives is that they are more prone to commodity pricing than traditional drives. When the price of the components goes up, their prices realign faster than do traditional hard drives tend to do.
  • RE: Lotus Elan vs a Bentley Type-R

    But if you need to drive any significant distance, I'll take the Bentley any day. I'm guessing this analogy falls apart for the disks? :)
    • Try to pick up girls with a disk drive

      You'll do far better with the Lotus and even better with the

      R Harris
  • RE: 2.5

    i do not know what other techies perception is, but mine is that the modern slimmer lighter drive are not as robust?? case in point i have several old 10 gig 20 gig drives lying around that seem to be as good as the day they were installed i have never had a warranty return on any of those "old" drives. In contrast i have just returned my third you beut modern drive for replacement this year - it is only one year into use, and i have three dead modern drives in the junk box. I always understood is that the 2.5 "laptop" drives are even more fragile?? - and more expensive replace??
    On Site PC
  • Reliability and cost.

    Two factors which need to be addressed before anyone takes 2.5" seriously for server / workstation type work - reliability and cost. In my experience with drives, the 3.5's have consistently given us better service and have lasted longer than the 2.5's. And there's the cost factor.
  • RE: 2.5

    Memory sticks and memory cards haven't killed this already?
    • Um, no.

      Those don't end up in rack servers too often.
  • 250Gb 2.5" drives are cheap as chips now...

    Just bought one for about US$100. That's still not as cheap as 3.5" drives, but it's dang close now. Biggest 3.5" drive you can get for that price is 400Gb, which is not that much bigger really.
  • SSDs are the way of the future

    Solid state drives with their very low power demands and zero latency are going to be with us soon... but not that soon. Maybe in a couple of years. Even then, I think they will come in more as replacements for high-performance storage

    In the meantime, 2.5" drives are going to come in vogue, I definitely agree with Robin Harris on that one. 2.5" is generally the form factor that SSDs will come in too - or the even smaller
  • RE: 2.5

    I tend to think that the SSD revolution is already here. SSD can do some pretty amazing things, but are limited due to the constraints on the number of read/writes. Some of the most compelling new storage solutions are making hybrids. Atrato is considering a system that combines 2.5 inch drives AND SSD's. This is huge news for any companies utilizing constantly streaming media. Take for example video on demand applications. The most accessed videos can be stored on the solid state drives which means little to no latency. Near line data that is accessed often, but not on a continual basis is stored on the 2.5 inch drives. Keeping only the most accessed data on the SSD's will extend their life. The speed reached by the massively parallel 2.5 SATA?s is not to be scoffed at when it comes to accessibility. Even this near line data can be accessed almost instantly. Atrato's current product, the Velocity1000, is already a best in class solution for performance. It utilizes 160 of these 2.5 SATA's in a compact 3U enclosure. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain their famous high density designs throughout this process. Their patented V alignment has served them well in the past, and I assuming will continue to do so in the future.