Quantum thrives on compatibility

By the time you read this column, Quantum should have made available its latest, most capacious and fastest tape unit to date. Of course, I'm speaking of the SDLT (super digital linear tape) 600, named after its impressive, single reel, 600GB capacity for compressed data.

The new, larger capacity means backups can happen promptly and without interruption. The time it takes to dismount a filled-up cartridge and load a new one still creates a long standstill during backups (and restores). With nearly twice the capacity of its predecessor, the SDLT 600 can significantly reduce that time and the number of cartridges used.

Obviously, having fewer media to handle also saves a company on administrative cost and operative mishaps, but that’s only half the story. The SDLT 600 also provides a faster transfer rate, which translates into faster backups and restores.

In fact, the new tape increases the compressed transfer rate over the previous SDLT 320 model, to a remarkable 72MB per second. If your servers can keep up, you can fill up a cartridge in slightly more than two hours.

For companies that have data protection requirements of gargantuan proportions, adopting the new drive should significantly reduce the number of units involved and simplify media management and vaulting activities.

Although the performance and capacity numbers of the SDLT 600 are impressive, I think what customers will appreciate most is the new unit's backward compatibility with recent Quantum models such as the SDLT 320 and 220 and the DLT VS160.

Backward compatibility is important when you consider the hundreds or thousands of media sitting in your vault. Introducing an incompatible tape drive would make those cartridges as obsolete as gramophone records.

Of course, you can always keep one or two old units to maintain data access, but given the choice, most storage administrators will choose a compatible upgrade -- an option that is not always possible using other tape technologies. For instance, Sony maintains compatibility between AIT (advanced intelligent tape) versions, but not between AIT and the larger and faster Super-AIT format.

At an estimated price of US$5,500 for a single tape unit and $100 per cartridge, the SDLT 600 is not for every budget, and will probably trigger interest only at the higher end of the enterprise segment.

Nevertheless, and somewhat paradoxically, this announcement will also capture the attention of customers with less demanding requirements. With knowledge of an open update path to larger models, undecided customers may be more easily swayed to go with Quantum; choosing, say, a DLT VS160 rather than a competing product in the same range.

Which also explains why, despite fierce competition from technologies such as LTO (linear tape open) and S-AIT (super advanced intelligent tape), Quantum has maintained and possibly strengthened its role as the benevolent dictator of the enterprise tape market.

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