Why Tape Libraries Still Matter

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jan 9, 2008


Tape libraries aren't exactly a booming business or front-page news these days, but at the same time, they're not faring all that badly in the face of the disk-based backup onslaught. According to Freeman Reports (Ojai, Calif.), total revenue from all tape libraries declined 15.6 percent in 2006 compared to 2005, while unit shipments declined 4.5 percent.

Disk-based backup and recovery solutions may be the hot ticket, but don't count tape libraries out yet. Tape users are sticking with their medium and buying more capacity, while the vendors continue to evolve their offerings to keep pace pace with enterprise needs.

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Despite those statistics, tape users purchased more than 50 percent more capacity as they migrated to higher-capacity and higher-performance tape drives and cartridges. Thus, what looks a fading industry on the surface is very much alive and kicking.

Revenue still amounted to a healthy $1.81 billion in 2006 and is expected to be $1.77 billion in 2007. According to Freeman Reports, it will rise to $2.15 billion by 2012. Within those numbers, older formats like 8-millimeter and DLT library sales continue to falter, offset by increased sales of LTO and half-inch cartridge libraries.

LTO has evolved into the dominant player, accounting for 88 percent of library unit shipments and 58 percent of library revenue. LTO capacity and throughput grew by leaps and bounds during the past few years. LTO-2 offered 200 GB native and 30-35 MB/s, whereas LTO-3 provides 400 GB and 80 MB/s, and the new LTO-4 delivers 400 GB and 120 MB/s. It is also the first open systems tape drive technology to incorporate native encryption.

With the growing popularity of disk-based backup and recovery solutions and the continued consolidation of tape library resources, however, tape is increasingly taking on a more specialized role in data protection. In many cases, tape is being used for disaster recovery and centralized backup.

"Corporations must retain data for long periods of time and ensure compliance with internal service-level agreements and government regulations," said Mark Eastman, product line director, Tape Automation Systems for Quantum (San Jose, Calif.). "As a result, customers are demanding higher security, capacity, performance and reliability across their tape investments. Automation platforms incorporating the latest-generation LTO-4 technology deliver on these important features."

Quantum

On the vendor side, the top players are Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, Calif.), IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and Quantum. Quantum gained serious ground in the enterprise tape library market with its acquisition of ADIC several years back.

At the high end of the scale, the Quantum Scalar i2000 has a starting price of $65,000. According to Eastman, the i2000 is designed to meet the rigors of high-duty-cycle data center operations and integration with disk-based backup solutions. It uses a standard 19-inch rack form and can holds 746 cartridges per square meter, as well as up to 192 LTO bulk loading slots in one library.

In the midrange, the Scalar i500 is priced beginning at $25,000. The entry Scalar 50 has a starting price of $8,000. One box contains 38 slots, and its Quantum StorageCare Vision data management and reporting tools enable users to monitor multiple tape libraries and disk systems from one screen.

"Backup and restore capabilities are just as critical in busy workgroups and remote environments as they are anywhere else," said Eastman. "The Scalar 50 tape library provides them with an easy-to-use, reliable and scalable solution that simplifies the backup process."

IBM Tape

According to IDC (Framingham, Mass.), IBM offers the leading enterprise tape drive in the TS1120. This tape drive comes with Encryption Key Manager for Java platform (EKM) to encrypt information being written to tape.

"EKM technology is used in high-end enterprise accounts by Fortune 100 companies in a variety of industries including banking, finance and securities," said Master. "IBM's LTO tape offerings have achieved nearly 900,000 drive shipments and over 10 million cartridge shipments."

The company's highest-end tape library is the TS3500, which scales up to 6,800 slots and up to 192 LTO tape drives. Lower down the ladder comes the TS3310, which can deal with up to 398 slots and 18 LTO drives. The company offers various lower-end models such as the TS3100 with 24 slots.

IBM also offers tape virtualization products, such as the TS7520 and TS7700. The TS7700 Tape Virtualization Engine is for mainframes and can be configured to participate in a grid environment.

"Two or three TS7700s can communicate and replicate with each other over an IP network," said Master. "This arrangement helps reduce or eliminate bottlenecks in the tape environment, supports the re-reference of volumes without the physical delays typical to tape I/O, helps increase performance of tape processes, and helps to protect data and address business continuity objectives."

Sun StorageTek

Like the other big vendors, Sun provides encryption for tape systems. The StorageTek T10000 tape drive, for example, includes this feature and has a starting price of $37,000.

At the high end on the tape library side is the StorageTek SL8500, with a starting price of $195,830. It can house up to 56 Petabytes (70,000 slots) and can be shared among mainframe, Solaris, AS/400, Windows, Linux and Unix systems.

Lower down the line is the StorageTek SL500 (starting at $16,400), an 8U rackmount tape automation model that scales from 30 to 575 LTO slots and can deal with multiple cartridge types, such as LTO and SDLT/DLT-S4. Its maximum capacity is around 460 terabytes (uncompressed).

"We are seeing strong adoption of the scalable libraries in the distributed and small business space, as evidenced by continued growth of the SL500," said Alex North group manager for tape at Sun Microsystems. "The SL500 is particularly good for such applications as e-mail servers, database applications and file servers."

Encryption is another feature making its way into StorageTek tape technology. Sun's StorageTek T10000 tape drive is an example of a product that has built-in software to encrypt your data. The T10000 pricing begins at $37,000.

Green Tape

As for the future of tape, these vendors are committed to it and believe it will continue to play an important role. In fact, as green data center trends strengthen, tape usage will accelerate.

"Tape storage TCO is as much as an order of magnitude less expensive than disk storage," said Bruce Master, senior program manager, Worldwide Tape Storage Systems Marketing at IBM. "Its consumption of energy for power and cooling is anywhere from 20 to 100 times less expensive than disk storage."

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