A bit of a flaw with SATA disk drives

High-capacity serial ATA (SATA) disk drives are now a mainstay in many storage systems and make it feasible for almost any company to obtain a storage system with terabytes of capacity at a reasonable cost. Yet these systems reveal a specific, known deficiency of SATA disk drives that demand companies exercise caution as to what environments they deploy these systems into.

A minor flaw with SATA disk drives that high capacity storage systems expose is their bit error rate. Bit errors occur infrequently – about once for every 100 trillion bits. However RAID technology, which is normally used by storage systems to protect against data loss, does not detect if a specific bit on a SATA drive becomes unreadable.

While this is normally not a problem on smaller systems, as storage systems add more capacity, the issue becomes more acute. On systems with more than 10TB of capacity the probability of a specific bit of data becoming unreadable is a distinct possibility. On systems with over 100TB, it becomes almost a certainty.

So the question becomes: Does losing access to one bit of data really matter? Often, it doesn’t unless one stores deduplicated data on these systems which is now the fastest growing trend in data storage. When data is deduplicated, the storage system’s need to read every bit of data becomes paramount. The inability to access even a bit of data can result in multiple files becoming unreadable since they all may depend on a specific bit of data to complete their reconstruction.

High capacity SATA-based storage systems are the answer to many companies’ archiving and backup problems. But SATA bits can bite and using SATA drives to store large amounts of deduplicated data is not always the match made in heaven that vendors make them out to be.

Jerome Wendt is the president and lead analyst at DCIG Inc. You may read his blogs at www.dciginc.com.