Next-Generation Serial ATA Spec Finalized

Serial ATA speeds will double under the SATA II specification finalized this week by the Serial ATA Working Group at the Intel Developer Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

It will take about a month to ratify the spec, and the first 3Gbps SATA II products will appear by the end of the year, according to Intel spokesman David Dickstein.

“SATA is on a roll,” says Taneja Group founder and consulting analyst Arun Taneja. “At 300MB per second, the transfer rates are as high as anything SCSI can offer and higher than anything FC (Fibre Channel) is shipping right now. Given other SATA characteristics, I think SATA will do more damage to SCSI than we all imagine right now.”

SATA II products “are on practically every storage vendor’s roadmap,” adds Taneja.

Brian Garrett, technical director of the Enterprise Storage Group’s ESG Lab, calls SATA II “a great evolutionary step for SATA.”

“SATA should evolve over time much like ATA and SCSI did over the past decade,” Garrett told Enterprise Storage Forum. “Bus speed generally doubles every couple years, and more features like queuing and better error recovery evolve over time.”

First-generation (1.5Gbps) SATA products have been gaining traction in the last year in disk subsystems as near-line archival and backup staging, Garrett says, and SATA I servers and drives have also appeared in the last year. “SATA II will bring enterprise-level performance to this new class of affordable SATA-enabled storage subsystems and servers,” predicts Garrett.

Garrett adds that other features in the SATA II spec “are just as newsworthy as the performance update.”

These features include port selector and port multiplier capabilities. The port selector feature enables dual-ported HA (High Availability) configurations. “Vendors have been making somewhat proprietary ‘dongles’ for this to date, and the SATA II standardization for this is welcome so we can get rid of the space and cost of dongles,” Garrett says.

Port multipliers “will allow better fan-out, so more drives can live behind each controller chip, [which means] cost-reduced high-density, low performance near-line solutions can be built,” he says.

Garrett expects Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and SATA to overtake SCSI and ATA by 2007. “By then, I’m sure we’ll be talking about the SATA III spec.”

Silicon Image is one company that hopes to capitalize on the new spec. Mark Hartney, the company’s SATA evangelist, says the SATA II spec “provides unprecedented 3Gbps bandwidth and a host of advanced features that position SATA as a true enterprise-class solution, one that can compete with SCSI or FC in many demanding high-bandwidth applications, such as video streaming and editing, or storage-intensive computational environments such as CAD design and simulation.”

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