AT CES, HITACHI GST was showing off some unique enterprise SSDs, both in terms of form factor and interface. Like most others at CES, Hitachi also showed off a 3TB 7200RPM Deskstar, proving that magnetic drives are still alive and kicking.
Daddy drive, momma drive, and baby drive
The first drive is on the left, the Deskstar 7K3000. For those of you not up on drive name coding, this would make it a 3TB 7200RPM 3.5″ SATA disk. To keep up with the transfer rates brought on by the high density and speed, the Deskstar has a 64MB cache and a SATA-3 6Gbps interface.
The only other 3TB drive out there that seems to be the WD Caviar Green, and that is not a 7200RPM drive. In any case, if you are planning on buying one of these monsters, be aware that even some of the newest PCs and most external enclosures/docks out there don’t like booting from drives larger than 2TB. Make sure you have a board that supports 4K blocks and the latest firmware before you use one of these, it will save you headaches.
While both of the other two drives are 400GB SSDs, and both are labeled Ultrastar SSD400S, they are quite different. The larger of the two, aka momma drive, is obviously a 3.5″ disk, and the smaller one is 2.5″. What’s the difference, other than an inch? The interface.
Momma is a Fiber Channel drive while Baby uses SAS to talk to the world. The internals of the drive, other from the back side of the controller to the flash, are identical though. These are not your ordinary SSDs, they are true enterprise products.
Hitachi did something unique with this line, they made their own controller, or at least half of it. The flash facing half of the controller was made by Intel, basically their tried and true technology which changed the storage world a couple of years ago. The FC and SAS sides are done by Hitachi, and as far as the computer is concerned, they look like every other Hitachi drive to the drive controllers.
This part is hugely important, whenever you slap an enterprise sticker on a component, it not only adds a zero to the price tag, but brings along a lot of requirements. These requirements are why few dare to enter this space, and most of those don’t stay for long. The problem is painfully strict compatibility and support requirements.
To meet these goals, Hitachi made the SSD interface and firmware common with their other enterprise drives. The idea is that the qual cycles are going to go much smoother if everything that the FC or SAS controller sees is the same as the magnetic drives it is used to.
While the new drives may not function exactly like the old ones, software headaches will be reduced, and the storage arrays won’t need the dreaded firmware updates that drive strong admins to drink. Drink more that is. This compatibility also explains why Hitachi went with the 3.5″ form factor, it is much easier to upgrade your current arrays with if you don’t have to fiddle with adapters.
All of these drives are unique, or at least very out of the ordinary. WD is the only other company offering a 3TB drive, Seagate won’t even sell you a bare drive yet. More importantly, no one else offers a large selection of enterprise FC and SAS SSDs that you can swap out with magnetic media. Hitachi GST may not scream the loudest about their products, but they certainly know how to surprise you.S|A