Tape measurements

Long revered as the bastion of backup, tape enjoys a healthy status as the storage backbone of many organisations for its reliability and low cost. The trouble is, IT management now finds itself playing a numbers game as tape storage vendors jockey for position in a single-digit growth market.

Quantum/ATL Corp. has dominated the midmarket with DLT (digital linear tape) drives and cartridges. Only last year we began to see the emergence of timid competition for the DLT format from LTO (linear tape open), driven by the likes of Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and Seagate Technology LLC. The immediate effect was a war waged with numbers -- fought with mind-numbing capacity and performance projections from both sides.

Now, Quantum is dishing up the numbers again to fend off competition from second-generation LTOs. It's hatching the SDLT 320 (Super DLT 320; the number indicates the compressed megabyte capacity of the cartridge) that's expected to be delivered into anxious OEM hands by the end of this quarter. In addition to its greater capacity, SDLT 320 will be roughly 50 percent faster than its older sibling, the SDLT 220. Fathom that.

More numbers: Quantum promises that by 2007, the fourth generation of SDLT will store 1.2TB on a single cartridge in less than four hours without bothering to compress data or blink.

To be clear, faster drives, higher capacity tapes, and vendor innovation are all good things. But unfortunately, tape technology is only playing catch up with increased storage demands, which will leave IT management no better off tomorrow than they are today. At the same time, storage administration problems will increase in magnitude, despite the availability of better storage devices.

Shouldn't storage vendors take a different and more comprehensive look at the whole spectrum of storage issues? Clearly most of the practical innovation we're witnessing can be found in the higher-margin realm of storage software.

For example, belated market entrant Sun Microsystems Inc. recently announced its four new software management suites, bundled from more than 70 products. And now Sun is using Vicom to deliver better virtualization capabilities.

And Veritas Software Corp. this week added ServPoint Appliance Software to its NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area network) management capabilities. StorageTek Corp. is also on the software trail, set to release in late February its Email Xcelerator, a software suite to simplify e-mail management.

Interestingly enough, storage software is relatively free of the numbers talk. So if management concerns are your pain point, start with the solution you need first and hope the hardware can make the numbers.

E-mail us at mario_apicella@infoworld.com and mark_jones@infoworld.com

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