Hardware Today: Tape Libraries Keep Stocking Shelves

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Dec 5, 2005

Backup tapes and tape libraries were supposed to have gone the way of the dinosaurs by now. The much-hyped disk-to-disk (D2D) solutions have been signaling the end of tape for some time. Yet tape usage, as reflected in tape library sales, continues to grow.

If you thought tape libraries were on their way out, think again. Despite an influx of alternative solutions, tape library sales jumped 13 percent in 2004, and the major vendors continue to release tape products.

According to Robert Abrahams of Freeman Reports, total revenue from all tape libraries jumped 13 percent last year, reaching $1.94 billion. Abrahams predicts it will reach $3.09 billion by 2010.

"Users have reaffirmed their commitment to tape as the technology of choice for storage of massive amounts of data," he says. "The continuing adoption of SAN and NAS, and the insatiable demand for storage will be the driving forces in the future growth of automated tape libraries.

In terms of revenue market share, Freeman Reports places StorageTek, which is now owned by Sun, in the lead with 38 percent. Behind Sun is IBM (with 21.8 percent), ADIC (with 18.5 percent), and Overland (with 8.9 percent). Behind them are Quantum (4.7 percent), Fujitsu (2.8 percent), Spectra Logic (2.2 percent), and Sony (1.1 percent).

Gartner's Fara Yale notes that the small-form factor half-inch category, which includes Linear Tape Open (LTO) and half-inch cartridges (used in the higher-end machines), accounted for 111,900 of the 147,070 units sold last year. Like Abrahams, she sees the market as having moderate growth potential.

"Tape is here for a long time to come," says Yale. "Very few users are completely abandoning tape despite growing interest in D2D and virtual tape. It has a definite future in backup and archiving."

NEO, Overland, and the Matrix

As the need for backup and archiving has steadily expanded in recent years, the tape community has met the challenge by increasing capacity and tape speed. A two-times gain, for example, is achieved when moving from LTO2 (200 GB native, 30-35 MB/s) to the recently introduced LTO3 (400 GB native, 80 MB/s native). Thus far, user adoption has been fairly rapid.

"One of the big events in tape automation in 2005 was the release of the LTO3 tape drive technology from tape drive vendors, such as IBM, HP, and Quantum," says Peri Grover, director of product management at Overland Storage.

"Overland's existing customers were able to double the capacity of their libraries by replacing their LTO2 drives with LTO3 drives."

Overland offers a wide range of products. The NEO2000 is a lower-end box. It holds up to 30 cartridges, has one or two drives, a maximum capacity of 24 TB, and data transfer rates of up to 1.2 TB per hour. It supports both LTO and Super Digital Linear Tape (SDLT). Depending on the configuration, it costs from $9,778 to $13,778.

Overland is particularly strong in the midmarket. IDC shows the company with a 22 percent share in the midrange tape automation segment. The NEO4100, for example, holds up to 60 cartridges in one to four drives, for a total of 48 TB and transfer rates of up to 2.3 TB/hour. Overland's suggested price range is $23,765 to $27,599.

At the high end, the NEO8000 provides up to 500 cartridges, 1 to 12 tape drives, 400 TB of capacity, and transfers data at up to 7 TB/hour. The suggested price range is $81,117 to $105,915.

Overland sees tape integrating well with new disk-based approaches.

"More and more users are looking to stage their backup activities based on the frequency with which they need to access their data," says Grover. "Users are now looking to disk-based backup solutions for better data availability and reliability, and using tape for more of a long-term archival solution."

Quantum and the Storage Leap

According to Yale, the big news in storage this year has been tightened competition as new libraries enter the market.

"The battle is intense among midrange libraries such as the Quantum PX Series, ADIC i500 series, and StorageTek SL500," says Yale.

Quantum Director of Tape Automation Product Marketing Greg Fredericks illustrates the leap in technology made during the past three years by comparing his company's top-end enterprise product of 2002 with the latest and greatest from 2005: "We have seen 134 percent more capacity, 1,100 percent faster performance, 595 percent more density, and 80-percent cheaper (cost per GB) for enterprise tape automation over the past three years," he says.

In 2002, the Quantum P7000 held 44 TB and could transfer data at 216 GB/h at an acquisition cost of around $5 per GB. This year's PX510, on the other hand, tops 100 TB, transfers at 2,592 GB/h, and costs less than $1 per GB to acquire.

The PX510 is an 18U library designed for larger, mission-critical data center environments. It offers up to 10 drives and up to 201 slots per chassis. Its suggested starting price is less than $25,000.

Moving down P to the midrange market, the PX506 is a 10U, 6-drive library with up to 100 slots per chassis. It provides 40 TB of capacity and performance up to 1728 GB per hour. The suggested price for the PX506 starts at less than $16,000.

At the lower end, the PX502 is a 4U 2-tape drive library with up to 38 slots per chassis designed for workgroup, departmental, and remote office automation. It offers 15 TB capacity and 576 GB/h transfer rates. Pricing begins at less than $12,000.

During the next few months, Quantum is building a more security functionality into its tape libraries.

"Backup, recovery and archive needs a better security framework," says Fredericks. "We are adding multiple layers of security within tape automation systems encompassing physical access, administrative access and data access."

>> IBM and Sony

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