Big and Hard: IBM at 72

IBM has introduced the world’s largest hard disk to date, a 72GB monster for the server and storage area networking (SAN) markets. Since the form factor of these very large drives hasn’t changed from the previous generation of big hard drives, the net effect is that any system based on a Big Bunch of Disks (BBOD) just doubled its capacity. The announcements for this family of products began dribbling out of IBM in August. The crown jewel of the IBM hard-disk line is the Ultrastar 72ZX, which is the current leader in both capacity and density. The 72ZX disk holds 72GB, has a speed of 10,000 RPM, and has a density of 7.04Gb per square inch. The drive is compatible with the standard 72GB server drive format. The Ultrastar 72ZX has two smaller siblings: the Ultrastar 36LZX, a 36GB, 10,000 RPM hard disk; and the Ultrastar 36LP, a 36GB, 7200 RPM hard disk. The Ultrastar family features support for Ultra160+ SCSI interfaces and a 2GB fibre-channel interface. Currently, only IBM and Seagate supply fibre-channel-connected hard disks to the enterprise storage marketplace. IBM is pushing the Ultrastar’s reliability and steady, high-speed accessibility. These hard disks come with a feature called Active Damping, which IBM claims ″contributes to higher mechanical performance and helps the drives withstand temperature variation and vibration.″ IBM representatives claim that this technology makes the Ultrastar perfect for e-commerce and media delivery. Whether IBM has actually optimized the Ultrastar for e-business or is simply marketing it to today’s biggest growth area is anybody’s guess. IBM representatives gave us the estimated street prices for the Ultrastar series: The 72ZX monster will cost about $2199; the 36LZX, $1199; and the 36LP, $1151. The prices of the 36GB drives are comparable to their competitors. For example, a Quantum Atlas IV 36GB retails for about $1049. After a few quick calculations, we find that the big Ultrastar is about the same price per gigabyte as the smaller fry. For example: - The 18GB Atlas IV drive is about $560, or about $31/GB. - The 36GB Atlas IV drive is about $1050, or about $29/GB. - The 72GB Ultrastar 72ZX is about $2200, or about $31/GB. The 36GB Ultrastar models are shipping in limited quantities in the fourth quarter of 1999. The 72ZX will ship in the first quarter of 2000. The release of these huge hard disks results directly from IBM’s work in giant magneto-resistive (GMR) heads for hard disks. The company took the GMR head technology, patented in France in 1987, and found a way to achieve large data transfer rates at room temperature. Paul Horn, senior vice president for research at IBM Labs, said, “We got it into our products first because our labs have the resources and connections that other research organizations don’t.” IBM has worked hard to integrate its research and development teams. “We’re absolutely cutting-edge in terms of time to market,” said Horn.

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