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Fixed-block architecture (FBA) is an IBM term for the hard disk drive (HDD) layout in which each addressable block (more commonly, sector) on the disk has the same size, utilizing 4 byte block numbers and a new set of command codes. FBA as a term was created and used by IBM for its 3310 and 3370 HDDs beginning in 1979 to distinguish such drives as IBM transitioned away from their variable record size format used on IBM's mainframe hard disk drives beginning in 1964 with its System/360.
From RAMAC until the early 1960s most hard disk drive data were addressed in the form of a three number block addressing scheme Cylinder, Head & Sector (CHS); the cylinder number, which positioned the head access mechanism; the head number, which selected the read-write head; and the sector number, which specified the rotational position of a fixed size block. On June 2, 1961, IBM introduced the 1301, which had variable length records, and the market for sector-oriented disks was eclipsed for decades.
IBM's 1964 System/360 introduced their new self-formatting variable-length record format for disk and other random-access drives, wherein each record had an optional variable length key field and a variable length data field. IBM mainframe disk, drum and mass storage devices, called direct access storage devices (DASD) are addressed using a six byte seek address for seek commands and a five byte CCHHR for search count commands. OS/360 and other S/360 operating systems used an 8-byte address structured as MBBCCHHR (Extent (M)[a]-Bin (BB)[b]-Cylinder (CC)-Head (HH)-Record (R), which was capable of storing records of varying size, up to 255 such records per track, with the zeroth record (R0) being reserved for certain error correction information, such as "skip defects"). In addition to data, records could also contain a key. The length of the key, like the length of the data, was specified by the application writing the record. In addition to addressing records by number, it was possible to search disks by key, using the underlying count key data (CKD) structure.
The term "fixed-block architecture" was created by IBM in 1979 to distinguish this format from its variable-length record format. Fixed-block architecture was adopted for a few mainframe HDDs produced by IBM beginning in the 1970s, and contemporary DASD systems continue to support 3310 and 3370 compatibility. MVS continues to require CKD DASD, although by the 1990s all new IBM HDDs used fixed sectors internally. IBM's various FBA disks had block sizes of 100 or 200 characters, and 270, 366,:11 512,:2–1 1024, 2048, or 4096 bytes.
Blocks are typically separated on the track by inter-record gaps. Together, the block size and the size of the inter-record gap determine how many blocks can fit in each track. To read or write a block on an FBA disk, the computer would address the block using the traditional CHS three number address.
A later development in disk addressing was logical block addressing (LBA), in which the cylinder-head-sector triplet was replaced by a single number, called the block number. Within the disk drive, this linear block number was translated into a cylinder number, head number and sector number. Moving the translation into the disk drive allowed drive manufacturers to place a different number of blocks on each track transparently to the accessing software.
Still later, magnetic hard disks employed an evolution of LBA where the size of the addressable disk sectors can differ from the physical block size. For example, Advanced Format (AF) 512e HDDs use 4096-byte physical sectors, while their firmware provides emulation for a virtual sector size of 512 bytes; thus, "512e" stands for "512-byte emulation".
- The "extent" can be 0x00 through 0xff, with 16 extents being reserved for each deviceallocation in a "concatenation" (association) of up to 16 logically separate devices, even of different device types, although each device allocation may have only 16 such "extents".
- Applies only to "Data Cell" devices, and is 0x00 otherwise.
- IBM (September 1987), IBM 3880 Storage Control Models 1, 2, 3 and 4 Description Manual (PDF), Tenth Edition, GA26-1661-9
- IBM System/360 Operating System: System Control Blocks
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- IBM 350 disk storage unit
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- IBM 2311 Field Engineering Theory of Operation – describes the internals of the IBM 2311, which had both a count key data model and two models with fixed-size data blocks
- IBM System/360 Model 20 Functional Characteristics
- IBM System/360 model 44 Functional Characteristics
- IBM 3310 Direct Access Storage Reference Manual