Opinion: Tape libraries aren't dumb

Here comes another column about innovation -- you know, that new stuff that keeps this industry moving along? This time, we're not talking about virtualization or iSCSI, but a new twist in the world of tape: tape libraries.

Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC) last month revealed a new architecture that converts tape libraries from a dumb peripheral to a smart device that can provide storage administrators with insight on how the library is functioning. Older libraries provide very little information on their performance or health, which doesn't help you out much when a problem arises.

The biggest change to the tape library is the addition of a blade-based central controller that communicates with processors located throughout the library. ADIC officials say German engineers came up with the design, mimicking a similar architecture in automobiles. The controller, an embedded server, is able to communicate with all components in the library, and can record and report health and performance information on the individual pieces, including the data paths, drives, and the library itself.

Without this architecture, tape libraries require an external high-end server that runs expensive software. That expensive software now runs as the internal controller in the embedded server found within the library. The software primarily allows partitioning, which, as you know, is the dividing of a tape library to support specific applications. For example, if you had two different backup applications running in your shop, you'd probably rather split up one library than buy and maintain two.

To do partitioning with an older tape library, you would have to buy the external server and its accompanying software. There's another bonus to ADIC's built-in server architecture: It costs less than adding an external server to an existing library.

The first member of the ADIC iPlatform architecture family is the Scalar i2000. ADIC intends to bring this architecture to its other tape libraries, including the Scalar 10K and the Scalar 100. The newly boosted library can also send e-mails to admins as problems arise (it can also do the standard SNMP traps), and a touch screen displays the readings the control unit collects from the individual library components.

Up to four cabinets can be added to the initial cabinet. This gives you up to 1,674 LTO cartridges, all running with the same robotics. Older tape libraries require additional robotics if cabinets are added.

Clearly, we think this is pretty cool. Otherwise, we wouldn't have written an entire column on the subject. You can expect StorageTek Inc. and IBM Corp. to soon follow with similar architectures as the trend to smarten up systems continues. That also means libraries can be expanded in the same way as capacity needs grow.

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