Tape libraries build on IP standard

Amid the shower of new products and system refreshes that mark the annual spring trade show season, several tape storage vendors have unveiled products that challenge the business-as-usual mold for tape libraries and data backup.

Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC) has introduced the Scalar i2000, the first in what will be a new line of libraries endowed with built-in processors that monitor the health of systems and run critical device and storage management software. Previously, that software had to run on an external server, meaning another component to buy and manage, not to mention another one that could break.

Meanwhile, Spectra Logic Corp. just started shipping two tape libraries that support the recently ratified iSCSI standard, which allows storage managers to send backup data traffic directly to the libraries over ubiquitous, general-purpose IP networks.

For agency information technology shops that want to get the configuration flexibility and usage optimization that come from pooling storage on a network, iSCSI gives them another option besides the more expensive dedicated storage networks many have built using the Fibre Channel protocol.

"We think that backup will be one of the first areas to take advantage of the benefits of iSCSI, because you've already got the [IP network] infrastructure in place," said Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group.

Two of ADIC's goals in giving the Scalar i2000 its own built-in processors were to improve the availability of the library for backups, through better system diagnostics, and to centralize many of the management tasks, according to Steve Whitner, marketing manager for ADIC.

"[With our other libraries], if you want to divide the library into multiple partitions to do consolidated backup for different operating systems or if you want to see how much data has been backed up, you have to go outside the library to external servers that run the library management software or backup software," he said. "Now we run all that inside the library on applications that we have created. It makes it less complicated and less expensive."

ADIC will begin shipping the first Scalar i2000 this month in a version that supports up to 12 drives and 306 tape slots using the Linear Tape Open (LTO) format. A unit with two LTO drives and 100 slots would start at $83,000, Whitner said.

Also, up to four i2000 modules can be connected side by side and can share tape-loading robotics. Models of the i2000 that support other tape formats and slot configurations will follow later this year.

ADIC also plans to apply the embedded processor design concept, called the iPlatform architecture, down the product line to its midrange Scalar 100 library and up the line to the enterprise-class Scalar 10K.

For Spectra Logic, direct support for iSCSI is available immediately on its Spectra 20K (supports up to eight drives) and 64K (up to 32 drives) libraries (both libraries use the Advanced Intelligent Tape format). A department-sized Spectra 2K tape library and a networked, stand-alone tape drive, the NAStape, will ship with iSCSI soon.

Support for iSCSI, in conjunction with Spectra Logic's Shared Library Services partitioning feature, means that a single 20K or 64K library can connect simultaneously to iSCSI and Fibre Channel storage networks, allowing IT shops to consolidate backup on one tape library.

Customers are looking for that kind of scale and flexibility, according to Sharon Isaacson, a product manager at Spectra Logic. "We definitely don't see iSCSI replacing Fibre Channel, we see it co- existing," she said. "The iSCSI support will be especially important for those customers who have legacy [direct-attached storage] and want to replace that with iSCSI, which allows you now to have much greater distance between the server and the library than DAS allowed."

Isaacson also expects a big boom in the nascent iSCSI market in June when Microsoft Corp. rolls out a new iSCSI software driver that will allow computers running certain Windows operating systems to connect to storage devices using standard Ethernet networking gear. That will help lower the cost of building an iSCSI-based storage-area network and help IT shops with smaller budgets afford to deploy sophisticated storage strategies such as consolidated data backup, she said.

The free Microsoft iSCSI driver will work with Windows 2000 client and server versions, Windows XP client and the forthcoming Windows Server 2003 family of products, according to Microsoft.

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