HP eases management of storage tape libraries

HP is embedding technology in its storage tape libraries that should help users manage the migration and movement of data more easily, the company says.

HP recently announced the StorageWorks Extended Tape Library Architecture, which consists of an integrated E2400-160 FC Interface Controller that links tape drives to storage-area networks (SAN), and an Interface Manager, which contains software that can be used to monitor the health of the library. The Interface Manager card in each controller communicates with HP's

CommandView management console, which can gather information about the health of the library, configure the device and optimize its performance.

With this technology and with a controller in front of a library of tape drives, the company can install applications on the controller that make libraries easier to manage, control and migrate data to. Competitors such as ADIC and Quantum say they already have similar technology in place.

Unlike disk drives, which attach to the SAN via a controller interface, tape libraries typically attach directly through Fibre Channel connections or a SCSI-to-Fibre Channel router to SAN switches. When attached in this fashion, users rely on separate software to monitor the health, performance and other features of the tape drives. In some cases, applications such as replication, serverless backup and virtualization have resided on separate host computers. Those characteristics now are coming to tape, HP says.

Companies with mainframes are familiar with intelligent storage controllers. IBM and StorageTek have implemented them in their Virtual Tape System and Virtual Storage Manager, in which a controller-type device is placed in front of several libraries and distributes and migrates data to the tape device transparently to the back-up application. Several other companies, including Computer Associates and Fujitsu-Softek, have implemented virtual tape systems in software.

The StorageWorks Extended Tape Library Architecture automates and verifies configurations, avoids network collisions that could disrupt backup, and detects and tracks SAN errors. In the future, HP says it will be able to decide which tape drive to archive data to, partition drives and determine whether data should be migrated to disk rather than tape. HP says it plans to include virtualization software capability, which aggregates multiple libraries into one virtual pool so data can be migrated and archived more easily. In the event of a drive failure, another tape drive could be substituted for the failed drive without the back-up application being aware.

"We see this setting the stage for information life-cycle management," says Rick Luttrall, director of near-line product marketing for HP's Network Storage division. "You are going to need to have attribute-based storage or hierarchical storage management where you store the things you need most quickly on disk and the data you may only need once a year on tape. It's still accessible regardless of where it sits in the hierarchy."

HP is not the first to take advantage of placing applications on tape controllers. ADIC, which introduced its Scalar i2000 library in March, also uses an intelligent controller to interface its box with Fibre Channel switches. Like HP's technology, this lets users migrate to faster Fibre Channel SANs without changing the individual tape drives in the array.

ADIC's Scalar i2000 integrates back-up management functions, including native partitioning of one library into multiple logical libraries, mixed media, Fibre Channel connectivity, performance monitoring, system health and readiness checks, diagnostics and policy-based user alerts.

Quantum-ATL's FC470 Fibre Channel router also monitors health information of the library and performs partitioning and serverless backup.

"The tape library has been the last place where vendors have innovated with respect to enabling the networking of tape products," says Peter Gerr, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group.

"From a tactical standpoint it allows users to consider the tape aspects of their environments along with the disk solutions, which is a good thing for the management of tape."

The interface controller for HP's StorageWorks Extended Tape Library architecture costs $13,000. It also is incorporated into the HP ESL9000 Extended Library. The separate Interface Manager card is expected to be available next month for $2,000.

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