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Demand for ATA disk drives expected to grow

New data-retention laws are pushing growth in the ATA disk market.

Storage vendors such as EMC Corp. have begun marketing relatively inexpensive Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) disk drives to help enterprises comply with various data retention regulations.

Assorted industry regulations require businesses to store records in a read-only or fixed format for minimum periods of time. But most companies don't like the idea of storing rarely used data on mission-critical, high-performance systems. As a result, storage vendors have begun marketing ATA disk drives as a cost-effective way for companies to meet their fixed-content needs.

Brad Nisbet, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said that regulations on electronic data retention, such as those set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), are fueling the disk storage trend. Another law driving the movement is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which requires executives to swear that their companies' financial statements are true. Sarbanes-Oxley was instituted after a rash of corporate accounting scandals at Enron and other U.S. companies.

ATA drives typically have a higher capacity and are less expensive than systems based on newer storage technologies. They're also low-performance systems. But, as Nisbet points out, performance isn't a major factor because fixed content is not mission-critical and generally doesn't need to be accessed at a moment's notice.

"ATA drives are generally not as reliable as SCSI or Fibre Channel drives," Nisbet said. "Although when you group them together, there are things you can do to improve reliability."

Nisbet said that EMC is leading the charge in this area with its recent release of the Centera Compliance Edition.

Centera is EMC's general purpose fixed-content disk array for enterprises that need to comply with e-mail retention and earnings statement authenticity regulations. The company says the new Centera Compliance Edition includes features that allow administrators to set strict rules for retaining and deleting e-mail and other business documents; it also offers increased security for controlling access to records.

"Products like Centera are built specifically to accommodate the regulations," Nisbet said. "EMC is also building a whole practice around this in order to help their customers understand the regulations, because they can be overwhelming and confusing."

Network Appliance Inc. is another company vying for market share in the fixed-content arena, with its NearStore line of ATA disk drives. Nisbet said NearStore was initially intended to address backup consolidation and business continuance purposes. But "moving forward, Network Appliance will be providing the ability to use those systems to accommodate regulations," he said.

Other companies touting ATA drives for the fixed-content/regulatory compliance market include Spinnaker Networks LLC and Scale8 Inc., and Nisbet says that more are sure to follow. He said the vendors that will be most successful in this area will be the ones who offer these systems in conjunction with consulting services designed to give the customer a solid understanding of their industry's data retention rules.

"Just having an ATA product isn't going to get vendors anywhere," Nisbet said. "They need to understand their customer's market, and they need to understand the regulations that are driving it."


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