This is third in a stub series about data safeguarding. Previously we’ve taken a look at Refurbished/White Label drives and Desktop drives. Each of these classes of drives has their advantages and disadvantages. Compromise is the name of the game when shopping for inexpensive personal storage.

Enterprise grade drives compromise less due to performance requirements in server environments. Data needs to be accessed quickly, reliable, and available 24/7.

Common features of enterprise drives are high speed, error mitigation, vibration tolerance, and longer warranty.

Enterprise drives are mostly installed in servers. Servers require high quality drives in fault-tolerant arrangements with high Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). IOPS is the metric used to determine how much data can be serviced through a system or network. Servers can host many types of data, such as web services, databases, email, and backups– the list goes on and on.

Rather than desktop computers, which only have 1 user, servers may have thousands of users accessing various data. Adequate performance for such high demand requires speed and reliability.

Speed

As we previously discussed, disk speed is largely influenced by the rotational speed and cache. However, enterprise drives often require much faster spindle speeds than desktop drives. With a few exceptions, rotational speeds for enterprise drives are usually 10,000 to 15,000 RPM. With faster rotational speed you can achieve higher throughput and lower latency/seek times.

Another major factor of drive speed is interface, or how it plugs into the system board. The most common interface for desktop drives currently is SATA, a successor of the old parallel ATA connector. Servers most often are equipped with SAS controllers. SAS, or Serially Attached SCSI, is the successor of the old SCSI connector. Currently SATA revisions offer speeds up to 6Gbps (SATA 3.0), on the other hand the latest SAS standard (SAS-4) specifies 22.5Gbps.

One of the beautiful things about the SAS controller is that it can read both SAS and SATA drives, where SATA controllers are compatible with SATA only. There are various revisions of each of these connection types, if there is enough interest, we can cover them in another article.

Reliability

Enterprise drives have features and technology built in that desktop drives simply don’t have due to the “compromise” nature of the home market.

Error Correction

Without going into too much arduous detail, enterprise drives are better at handling bad sector recovery, offer better integrity checks, and have built in drive misalignment detection/correction.

Vibration Mitigation and Heat

The density of servers and racks introduces a lot of spinning fans and drives in a relative small space. With so many moving parts, the amount of vibrations in a server chassis can quickly overload a mechanical drive. Enterprise drives typically handle 2-4 times the vibration level and have vibration compensation mechanisms.

Enterprise drives can handle a higher temperature variance. Many drives are specified to work as much as 20°C higher than their desktop counterparts.

Warranty

As previously mentioned, typical desktop drives a warrantied for a maximum of 3 years while enterprise drives generally carry 5 year warranties. Manufacturers will also boast nearly double MTBF on their enterprise drives versus desktop variants.

Conclusion

While enterprise drives are better overall, they carry a higher premium versus desktop. Few home users will need all the features and performance that enterprise hardware offers.

The problem with physical hardware is that we still reach a point where we can expect drives to fail no matter how good a particular drive is. In future articles we’ll dive deeper into fault tolerance and backups.