Quantum, others put the 'intelligence' in tape

Quantum this week introduced the first firmware for monitoring and reporting on midrange tape drives, giving super digital linear tape (SDLT) drives an added edge at a time when sales are still lagging behind those of its closest competitor, linear tape open (LTO) drives.

Analysts said Quantum's new feature set is part of an overall industry trend to put more intelligence in automated tape products, from libraries to tape cartridges, in order to aid in the management of server backups and the archiving of corporate data.

Quantum's new DLTSage product performs error analysis and predictive diagnostics on its SDLT drives to ensure that backups are completed successfully and that systems administrators are notified of problems, including when tapes and drives are nearing the ends of their lives.

"It's not new in concept; this kind of intelligence in one form or another has been offered from time to time on high-end drives," said Bob Abraham, an analyst at research firm Freeman Reports. "But this is the first time such a large amount of intelligence has been offered in this class of drive."

The application allows systems administrators to be alerted to the health of tape drives via a proprietary management interface, an infrared-equipped Pocket PC or third-party backup software.

LTO currently has a healthy lead in sales over SDLT, with about 175,000 units shipped in 2002 compared with 109,000 SDLT drives, said Abraham. But he said Quantum's new firmware upgrade could give SDLT an edge. LTO gained the sales lead because it was the first of the so-called superdrives and shipped in September 2000, several months before SDLT, which was a follow-on to DLT drives.

DLTSage is available for all current DLT and SDLT tape products via a free Web download. It will ship with Quantum's SDLT600 tape drive, which is due in the fourth quarter.

Abraham said intelligence in tape subsystems has become the mantra of many vendors who are trying to more tightly integrate their products with the overall data center infrastructure.

One example of that is Advanced Digital Information, which earlier this month began shipping its next-generation tape library, the Scalar i2000. The company said this product eliminates the need for external library control servers and offers advanced performance monitoring, systems readiness checks, diagnostics and policy-based alerts for systems administrators.

The Scalar i2000 scales from one to 48 drives and up to 1,395 SDLT cartridges, 1,674 LTO cartridges or 2,232 Advanced Intelligence Tape (AIT) cartridges -- and up to 670TB of capacity.

Functions on the library include native partitioning into multiple logical libraries, mixed tape drive technology, native Fibre Channel connectivity, advanced performance monitoring and alerts via standard e-mail and pager networks. Advanced Digital Information said its iPlatform server-embedded controller will also display real-time backup performance data and gather information to be used for future predictive analysis.

Pricing for Scalar i2000 libraries begins at $83,000, including installation services and a year of on-site service.

Rick Luttrall, director of product marketing for leading tape vendor Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Nearline Division, said intelligence could fit in at the disk or tape drive level, but "we see the best fit in the library itself. That doesn't mean you couldn't put the disk in the (StorageWorks Modular SAN Array 1000) in a library as a disk-based backup solution."

Jeff Laughlin, director of strategy for automated tape solutions at Storage Technology Inc. in Louisville, Colo., said his company will be integrating its BladeStore disk-to-disk backup server with its Powderhorn tape libraries over the next couple of years.

A combined disk/tape library would save floor space, further eliminate downtime by performing backups to disk first and help eliminate network issues, Laughlin said.

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