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September 27, 1999

UCSC and Quantum Corp. release S.M.A.R.T. software for Linux

By Tim Stephens

Free software enabling users of the Linux operating system to monitor their hard drives and detect predictable drive failures is available from the School of Engineering's Concurrent Systems Laboratory. Development of the software is sponsored by Quantum Corp. of Milpitas, Calif., a leading manufacturer of hard-disk drives.

Linux penguin
The Linux penguin
Image: Larry Ewing
The failure of a hard drive is among the most frustrating experiences for computer users, and can be catastrophic if the drive's data have not been backed up. The S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) system monitors hard drives and warns of impending failures before they happen. Originally developed by Compaq, S.M.A.R.T. technology has become an industry standard for hard drive manufacturers.

"The S.M.A.R.T. system allows the computer to talk to the hard drive and ask how it's doing by measuring various performance parameters," said Darrell Long, associate professor of computer science in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering.

The software for monitoring S.M.A.R.T.-capable hard drives has been available for Windows operating systems since 1995. Now, users of the increasingly popular Linux operating system can also take advantage of S.M.A.R.T. technology.

Michael Cornwell, a software engineer at Quantum, developed S.M.A.R.T. for Linux as an independent study project at UCSC. Cornwell earned his B.A. degree in computer science from UCSC this year.

"Quantum has been seeing a real interest in Linux from our customers," said Ted Deffenbaugh, director of strategic and technical marketing at Quantum. "With support for S.M.A.R.T., Linux users and the open source code movement will have even higher levels of data availability."

The release of this software to the open source community is an important development, said Long, who was Cornwell's adviser on the project. The open source software movement, spearheaded by the Linux operating system, is based on making the source code for software programs freely available so that other software programmers can modify it and adapt it to their individual needs. Linux, initially created by Linus Torvalds, has been further developed through the efforts of many independent programmers working on the open source code. In contrast, companies such as Microsoft consider their software's source code a trade secret to be closely guarded.

As Linux has become more popular, the demand for Linux-compatible software has increased. "There are an estimated 8 million Linux users now, and it is being used on everything from personal computers to large networks and Web servers," Cornwell said.

The initial Phase I release of the S.M.A.R.T. for Linux software only supports ATA, one of two standard interfaces for connecting hard drives to computers. A complete software package that supports both ATA and SCSI will be released by the end of the year, Cornwell said.

Quantum's sponsorship of the project was tremendously important because of the company's leading role in the implementation of the S.M.A.R.T. system for hard-disk drives, Cornwell said. "I gained a lot of valuable insight into different aspects of S.M.A.R.T. from talking to the developers at Quantum," he said.

Through the S.M.A.R.T. system, Quantum disk drives incorporate a suite of advanced diagnostics that monitor the internal operations of a drive and provide an early warning for many types of potential problems. When a potential problem is detected, the drive can be repaired or replaced before any data are lost.

The S.M.A.R.T. system consists of software that resides both on the disk drive and on the host computer. The software on the disk drive monitors the internal performance of the motors, media, heads, and electronics of the drive. The host software determines the overall reliability of the drive by analyzing the drive's internal performance parameters and comparing them to predetermined threshold limits.

"Any user of a computer with a hard drive should be interested in knowing when the hard drive is about to fail," Cornwell said. "When something goes wrong, as happened to me on my laptop, the S.M.A.R.T system enables you to avoid a hard drive failure and repair the drive without losing any data."

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