Serial Storage Takes Center Stage At IDF

SAN FRANCISCO — Serial storage took center stage at the Intel Developer’s Forum this week, with the formation of a new Serial ATA (SATA) group and several SATA and serial attached SCSI (SAS) product announcements.

Among the announcements was a new computer interface for handheld and consumer devices. The Consumer Electronics-ATA initiative is a derivative of the Advanced Technology Attachment storage specification, and it addresses a slew of handheld devices that interface with PCs and servers. The spec should be ready for widespread use as early as next year.

The forces behind CE-ATA, which include Intel, Seagate Technologies, Hitachi Global Storage, Marvell Semiconductor, and Toshiba America Information Systems, are the same ones that announced the formal establishment of the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO) during a keynote at the forum. Forty vendors have joined the new SATA-IO group.

The project’s first goal is to define a standard interface, which includes low pin count, low voltage, power efficiency, cost effectiveness and integration efficiency. Previously, handheld devices have relied on bulkier I/O interconnects.

CE-ATA differs from Serial ATA in that it focuses on smaller form factors, such as PDAs, MP3 players and mobile phones. But even for the enterprise, CE-ATA will help encourage highly optimized small form factor disk drives. For instance, chipmakers will be able to take advantage of the low pin count, low voltages, and efficient protocols.

Kurt Grimsrud, a senior principal engineer with Intel, said the disk drive interface could eventually spur improved storage use in these handheld devices and allow customers to have yet another option for storing files.

Grimsrud said that with the increasing need for storage drives, the working group was sorely needed and is a natural extension of Serial ATA. The two initiatives were kept separate intentionally, because handheld and portable consumer applications do not have the same requirements as mainstream computing.

As for the new Serial ATA storage industry group, the working group’s transition to SATA-IO was necessary, the group said, since the technology has evolved from SATA version 1.0 in early 2000, to SATA II in 2002 to the current SATA-IO.

The roadmap includes enabling the 3 gigabits-per-second (Gb/s) technology, which the group discussed in a July 2004 announcement. The group also said it plans on expanding its membership to include additional optical storage vendors, storage controller and hard drive vendors, system builders, storage semiconductor designers and computer technology designers.

The group demonstrated, for the first time, end-to-end 3Gb/s SATA technology to confirm the newly released spec, which should be completed in the first half of 2005.

“This technology demonstration presents a significant step forward towards realizing the full benefits of SATA technology into multiple tiers of storage solutions,” stated Barbara Murphy, vice president of marketing at AMCC, another SATA-IO member. “SATA 3Gb/s technology offers the required bandwidth to provide robust solutions that meet the increasing demand for capacity, performance and features at attractive price points.”

Not to be left behind, SAS — which will support SATA drives, allowing both to be used in the same backplane for tiered storage — was also the subject of a number of announcements, among them a storage system from Adaptec.

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