Demand for tape drives being driven by SAN adoption

If you ask any long- or short-distance runner about a race, chances are their objective is rather transparent: finishing first. With Overland Data’s release of the Super DLT tape drive, they’ve crossed the line ahead of the competition, according to one analyst.

Quantum Corporation makes the technology itself, but it is Overland tape libraries that carry this technology to the market. The release of the Super DLT tape drives is seen as an important shift in the industry.

DLT previously dominated a large portion of the market, including tape drives and tape drives within libraries, said Bob Abraham, the president of Freeman Reports in Ojai, Calif. “When Quantum finally made the Super DLT available, it gave them a stronger position in the market.” While Overland was the first to the market, it merely gave the company a temporary advantage, he said, and if it hadn’t announced the release, its competition would surely have overtaken the company.

The SDLT 220 tape drives operate at a capacity of 110 GB and a transfer rate of 11 MBps – native uncompressed. Future generations of these libraries will lead to more than one TB of storage capacity. They support all major systems and platforms, including Unix, Linux, Windows NT and Mac OS.

According to a report released by Freeman earlier this year, the rival competition to the market will be the Ultrium and eight-millimetre devices.

“Ultrium…was jointly developed by IBM, Seagate (and) HP. They saw the success they were going to continue to have for years, (and) the three companies saw the opportunities and decided on a joint initiative, a common effort in terms of format, cartridge and interchange.”

Abraham said the driving force behind the tape market is our insatiable appetite for storage and information. But another factor is cost, and he said for enterprises and corporations tape is simply more cost-effective than disk when there are multiple users with multiple workstations, who are trying to save their information. Abraham believes the Storage Area Network (SAN)/Network-Attached Storage (NAS) scenario is leading to the higher demand for tape and tape libraries because while companies are incorporating this software, the need for the hardware has risen.

Industry analysts are in general agreement on the relationship between the need for tape and SAN.

“You need to be aware that SANs are justified on tape consolidation alone,” said Bob Zimmerman, the director of storage research for Giga in Santa Clara, Calif., used the campus scenario to describe how effective tapes are. Typically, there would be smaller data centres that an enterprise was supporting, each with one or two tape drives, which departments would use for backup. “What SANs give you is the ability in the campus setting…to consolidate all those little tape stand-alone units into one higher capacity tape library and guarantees tape capacity is available for backup.”

Zimmerman added that tape backup is one area that tends to be ignored. He called it unproductive, because if you are using a stand alone tape drive, someone physically needs to be there to insert the tape, change the tape and it requires someone to know which tape is the backup.

Despite some of the difficulties with tape backup, Alan Freedman said the market is still strong.

“When [companies] are buying SAN or NAS, an integral part of that is the tape backup.”

The research manager for servers and storage at IDC Canada in Toronto believes that e-business and the Internet are the top reasons for the strong market. “The sheer volume of data that is being created from tracking and doing e-business is just tremendous.”

While growth is expected to continue, other areas in storage such as routers and switches will likely surpass the growth of tape drives, he said.