New hybrid drives promise faster Vista laptops, PCs, servers

Vista's support for flash-assisted hybrid hard drives sets the stage for faster, less power-hungry computers

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The same power savings could be beneficial for servers with direct-attached storage, he said. Although Panabaker wouldn’t confirm it, it is likely that ReadyDrive will be integrated into the next version of Windows Server. “The code is part of the core bits in Windows,” he acknowledged.

The outlook for hybrid disk in networked storage is less clear. ReadyDrive doesn’t support iSCSI network-attached storage, but Panabaker said he sees value in supporting it as a way for network storage devices to save power and generate less waste heat in data centers.

Chris Bennett, vice president of core systems at NetApp, said the technology might find a niche in very small network-attached storage systems, but sees “no apparent benefit” for enterprise class systems, noting that NetApp disk arrays already use faster DRAM caches and those systems typically are not powered down.

However, allowing drives to spin down during periods of inactivity could be important as data centers face heat and power issues. “In a server environment, power consumption is a big factor. If you can keep disk drives spun down that saves power,” Rao said.

Falling prices for flash could make it more attractive for network storage, Panabaker said. “[Flash] is now cheaper than DRAM so we see an interesting trend where it may be cheaper in really specialized products, such as some high-end SCSI arrays, to use flash,” he said.

As performance continues to climb and cost drops, flash is likely to become attractive for more and more applications. “Any place there is a gap between processor performance and disk I/O, flash will apply,” Rao said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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