Why SAS and SATA are so attractive to users and resellers

Why SAS and SATA are so attractive to users and resellers


Serial-attached SCSI, serial ATA and the storage reseller community are all going to be great friends.

I was at a meeting last week in Chicago when storage distributor Bell Micro introduced vendors that have been developing the industry's new serial I/O technologies to a number of resellers.

Resellers like road shows of this sort because they pull a lot of information into one place at one time - the resellers can talk to the vendors, gather plenty of information in a single day, and then get back to doing business. The vendors like these things because they get a number of potential customers in one room at the same time.

Resellers of course come in many different varieties - some resell equipment from the major vendors, adding value of their own in any of a number of ways. The folks at the Chicago meeting were resellers of a different type however - they were the ones that build the "white boxes" we often hear about, typically unbranded machines that often use components identical to those appearing in the "branded" machines that the major vendors build.

Customers go to such resellers for any of several reasons, but most often because they feel they can't get enough visibility with the larger vendors, or because they see a reseller as providing some particular added value - software and hardware bundles, perhaps - that makes life easier for them. And sometimes customers go to resellers because these smaller system builders just plain provide them with a better level of service that is more closely aligned with their needs.

With SATA and SAS, resellers will be building systems that move data on and off disks at twice the speed of the previous generation of machines that used parallel I/O. Also, while the price difference between SATA and the parallel ATA it replaces is about 15% right now, expect this delta to disappear as soon as sales of SATA drives overtake parallel ATA sales, probably in about a year's time. The pricing difference between SAS and parallel SCSI should already be about zero.

It is important to keep in mind that as far as system builders are concerned, serial I/O is about more than just faster I/O for the same price. It is also about synergies and the business advantage that they can create.

These new serial devices - SATA for basic capability and SAS for high-end, performance-driven applications - offer system builders complementary storage technologies that work together well and which offer a chance for a reseller to get double value out of development efforts. Keep in mind that a SAS backplane accommodates both SAS and SATA devices, and that one box, in a manner of speaking, yields two different products.

Add to this another, important point - design simplicity. First, serial devices can be simpler because they allow easier airflow within machines. Second, device timing is much easier because timing is coordinated with a single serial signal and not with multiple parallel signals. The result: simpler designs that are easier to build.

This sort of thing is important for those resellers interested in margins, which by my estimate encompasses about all of them. When a technology investment can be leveraged across multiple storage products, the opportunity for improved margins arises.

Just as importantly, the people who will buy these devices also get a more flexible storage environment. They can buy a device with SAS drives for instance, and then remove the original storage for use elsewhere and repopulate the box with SATA drives. Alternatively, they can add another storage module and have one bay with SATA and another with SAS, offering them tiered storage in the same device.

One thing that may not be such a good idea however would be to mix-and-match SATA and SAS devices in the same device bay. Putting together untested combinations of devices would be fine as far as I/O is concerned, but with the close proximity of all the different drives, no one can know what the effect on vibration might be. It is probably not worth taking the chance.

SAS and SATA give everyone a chance to build added economies into the way systems are built. It is getting to the point where anyone who can't understand that is likely to be a taco short of a combination plate.

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