StorageTek debuts tape WORM

Storage Technology Corp. last week introduced the industry's first non-rewritable tape product, called VolSafe, which is designed for federal agencies and other customers that need to ensure the preservation of data or electronic documents.

Agencies that need the ability to protect documents from being erased generally have had to buy optical disk-based write-once, read-many (WORM) technology, which is more expensive than tape storage. VolSafe, which is initially based on the company's popular RedWood tape drive family, is designed to give its customers a less expensive alternative, according to StorageTek.

The development "is significant for people who want to preserve the integrity of documents...for regulatory or legal reasons," said Mike Casey, a research director with Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn. " It's especially interesting because a number of optical disk vendors have exited the business," and users "want something supported by more substantial companies," he said.

Casey predicted that such federal users as the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, military personnel systems and student loan authorities will want to look at VolSafe as an option. "There are a lot of people in federal [government] that need to store data" that cannot be changed, he said.

StorageTek "has been making inroads into the traditionally optical" storage market, said Scott Willis, a StorageTek solutions business manager.

The high-end optical WORM market is worth about $230 million, said Richard Mizrahi, a company industry consultant in Louisville, Colo. He derived his estimate from a Freeman Associates Inc. study of optical disks and libraries.

StorageTek has about 100,000 RedWood cartridges deployed in federal government accounts, said Joel Brunson, the company's area director for federal systems in Silver Spring, Md. Users of the basic RedWood tape technology include NASA, the Energy Department and the FBI. VolSafe will be added to the General Services Administration schedule and other contract vehicles.

VolSafe protects data with digital and physical safeguards. Microcode installed on the VolSafe tape drive and bit settings on the tape itself are used to protect used portions of the tape from being overwritten.

The cartridge also contains a "yellow notch," which alerts both the user and the tape drive itself that the tape is to be handled as a WORM product. Otherwise, though, the VolSafe tape media is the same as a normal RedWood unit, so VolSafe-enabled drives also will read non-VolSafe RedWood media.

Priced at $95 per 50G tape, VolSafe offers customers high-end, tamper-proof storage at about 0.2 cents per megabyte, compared with optical WORM, which typically costs about 2.4 cents per megabyte, Willis said.

NASA's Earth Observing System Core System (ECS) program, which includes storage for satellite data, will have original "Level Zero" data that it wants to preserve unchanged, said Alla Lake, the ECS development engineering lead for Lockheed Martin Corp., which is responsible for the archival portion of project. Non-VolSafe RedWood tapes already are used in the archive.

The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, W.Va., which uses thousands of RedWood cartridges in its day-to-day backup operations, is "always interested in developing data storage technologies," said David Stafford, chief of the division's data center operations unit. "Any time you're saving money, that's very appealing," he said.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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