EMC, Dell add new low-cost drives to midrange

Users who rely on cumbersome, slow-to-retrieve tape-based storage for protecting their data will now be able to back up and restore it more quickly with inexpensive disk-based storage arrays, EMC Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. announced on Wednesday.

EMC has opted to sell low-cost Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) drives with its Clariion storage systems as an option alongside current Fibre Channel drives, said Chuck Hollis, vice-president of markets and products at EMC. The new ATA drives could attract users who are willing to spend extra to purchase a disk-based storage system for tasks currently handled by slower tape drives. EMC along with its storage partner Dell will make the drives available with the Clariion CX400 and CX600 midrange storage arrays, Hollis said.

“We think this will help bridge a gap between people looking for high performance Fibre Channel drives and cost-effective but somewhat slow tape,” Hollis said.

EMC has long promoted the use of disk-based storage as a way to help customers keep much of their data readily available to users and to increase back-up and restore speeds. Many companies, however, still use tape for archiving data because of its low cost. This latest move by EMC and Dell toward ATA drives could give ATA a boost in this battle between disk and tape, according to one analyst.

“EMC is traditionally a very cautious, conservative company,” said Tony Prigmore, senior analyst at The Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. “Now what you are seeing is very rapid adoption of a technology you wouldn’t expect the incumbent (storage vendor) to be first to market with. No one expected EMC to do this that fast.”

Analysts say that ATA drives, which are commonly used in PCs and servers, allow back-up operations at as much as 100 times the speed of tape-based media for a cost that approaches that of tape. EMC has found that it can do back-up operations in one third the amount of time as tape and restore tasks 80 per cent faster than with tape, Hollis said.

The Enterprise Storage Group said 1GB of ATA disk space will cost US$1.44 compared to US$0.99 for Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape drives; by contrast, 1GB of Fibre Channel storage averages US$63.20, as much as 40 times as much as ATA.

EMC and Dell expect customers that have already been looking to move some of their data off tape to go after the new ATA products. In addition, the companies are looking for telecommunications vendors, media companies and government bodies to look into the technology as a way of increasing the speed at which they can access large pools of information.

Using ATA drives for backing up data and tape for archiving data is not new. Vendors of network-attached storage and JBODs (just a bunch of disks) such as Network Appliance Inc., Quantum Corp., StorageTek Inc., ATTO Technology Inc. and Avamar Technologies Inc., already ship ATA-based arrays for backing up data. EMC uses ATA disks in its Centera array for storing such data as digital images that don’t change over time.

The new ATA hardware starts at US$21,000 with a 1.25TB capacity and is available immediately from EMC and Dell.

In addition to the disk announcement, EMC said it will offer new storage software for its Clariion and Symmetrix storage systems that lets customers migrate and distribute data between storage arrays either locally or remotely. Called EMC SAN Copy, the software can be used to transfer large chunks of data from one system to another at the rate of close to 4TB an hour, Hollis said.

The software could be used, for example, to move information from a production system to a test system for application tuning. The software could also be used for large back-ups or for shifting information from an older system to a new one. The software is available immediately starting at US$18,000.

EMC has started a data migration services program to shift users from Hewlett-Packard Co. StorageWorks systems onto its own hardware using the SAN Copy software.

The companies are online at www.emc.com and www.dell.com.

– Deni Connor is a Senior Editor at Network World (U.S.)