IBM touting Fiber Connectivity in hardware offerings

IBM Corp. announced Tuesday that its virtual tape servers will soon be able to connect disk storage to mainframes via Fiber Connectivity (FICON), a move that could increase performance by about 75 percent.

IBM this week also touted new storage and software products, including a tape drive head that records 50 percent more data on existing cartridges.

IBM's TotalStorage Enterprise Tape Drive 3590 Model H has a new head that can replace the 4590 model B and E tape drives and write 384 tracks to a tape cartridge. By comparison, the older drives write 250 tracks to a cartridge.

"For a customer that has a need for more capacity, this provides them an excellent option to get it without taking up more floor space," said Bruce Master, a senior program manager at IBM's development laboratory in Tucson, Ariz.

Upgrading from a model E to the model H will cost $12,000, list.

IBM said it has Fiber Connected its virtual tape servers, which are hard disk devices that appear to mainframes as tape drives but enable data to be recorded at disk speeds. The data can then be downloaded off-line to tape silos.

FICON channels increase I/O capacity through the combination of a new architecture and faster physical link rates, making them up to six times as efficient as Enterprise System Connection (ESCON), IBM's previous fiber-optic channel standard.

IBM has sold about 100,000 TotalStorage Virtual Tape Servers (VTS) -- the V10 and V20 -- which currently connect via ESCON to mainframes. ESCON has peak data transfer rates of 17MB/sec., vs. 100MB/sec. of FICON.

Dianne McAdam, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said the FICON upgrade and faster data transfer rates will go a long way to reducing backup times for mainframe users.

IBM also said it will upgrade the VTS management software to include volume pooling, which allows a storage administrator to save similar data and volume sets together on the same set of tape cartridges. For example, if a company has customer data related to a specific operation, that data can automatically be saved to one set of tapes, making removal and warehousing of the data simpler.

The VTS Advanced Policy Management package lists for $30,000 and will include a dual-copy feature that automatically creates a copy of data onto another set of cartridges for disaster recovery. Upgrades to existing VTS Advanced Policy Management packages start at $5,000.

In part, the policy-based software upgrades indicate a game of catch-up by IBM, whose technology was lagging behind that of competitor Storage Technology Corp. in Louisville, Colo.

"This is the race for the virtual tape market, and this is IBM getting on same level of what STK [StorageTek] had in the past," McAdam said.

IBM's VTS software upgrades begin shipping July 26. The VTS FICON will be generally available Jan. 31.

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