HP simplifying backup for small businesses

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to release the industry’s first DAT USB 2.0 tape drives for servers next month, the company announced Monday. Aimed at small to midsize businesses (SMBs), the move is part of an ongoing HP strategy to make storage products for data backup easier to use.

The HP StorageWorks DAT 72 and DAT 40 USB tape drives, are due to appear on or slightly before July 11, according to HP executives. Each drive will offer a data transfer rate of 23G bytes per hour, assuming 2:1 data compression. The 72G-byte drive should cost US$749, while the 40G-byte drive should price out at US$599.

Having a USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2.0 interface for digital audio tape (DAT) drives is something users have been pushing for, according to Troy Davis, product marketing manager, HP StorageWorks tape drives. “Parallel SCSI [small computer systems interface] reaching the end of its life is driving more use of other interfaces,” he said.

When polled on which interface they’d most like to see in HP tape drives, customers and partners voted strongly for USB 2.0, ahead of Apple Computer Inc.’s FireWire, serial SCSI, and serial advanced technology attachment (ATA), Davis added.

Even though it’s been around for 16 years, the DAT format remains very popular among the SMB community, so vendors like HP are continuing to pump investment dollars into the technology, according to Bob Abraham, president of tape industry analyst Freeman Reports, based in Ojai, California. “We can’t say that the future’s bright for tape, but it’s certainly good,” he said.

The USB 2.0 interface should simplify setting up a tape drive, with HP suggesting a user could get the device up and running out of the box in 60 seconds. The company also estimates that using a USB 2.0 interface is substantially cheaper than going the SCSI route. With a SCSI-enabled drive, customers need to buy additional hardware such as a host bus and cables to the tune of an extra $150 to $400, HP’s Davis claimed. “That price range may be a bit on the high side, but there is a significant cost increment in going to SCSI, analyst Abraham agreed.

For the vast majority of SMBs, those employing between 10 to 100 staff, USB 2.0 will provide a fast enough interface for companies to back up most of their applications, Abraham said. However, “Much larger SMBs do need to go to SCSI for performance [purposes],” he added.

While aimed squarely at customers running servers, HP is hoping that the DAT USB 2.0 pricepoint might also be attractive enough to interest some workstation users. “We’re dipping our toes into the workstation market to see how we’ll do there,” HP’s Davis said.

Making such a move wouldn’t be a stretch for HP, Abraham suggested, but he pointed out that historically the highly price sensitive workstation market has shown very little interest in tape drives. “They [by and large] don’t want to be bothered with tape, and use disk [drives], DVDs or CDs,” he said.

HP continues to have internal discussions about tape drives aimed at consumers using laptops and PCs, but the company has no plans as yet to enter that market, according to Davis.

HP Monday also announced the release of a new Ultrium tape drive based on the linear tape open (LTO) technology. The half-height LTO 1 HP StorageWorks Ultrium 232 tape drive has a 200G-byte capacity per cartridge and a backup speed of 115GB per hour, assuming 2:1 data compression. Available Monday, the Ultrium 232 has an estimated list price of $1,799.

Here again, Davis believes HP is offering an attractive pricepoint, this time trying to win over those businesses looking to transition away from DAT to a higher-end replacement tape technology.

While HP is certainly closing the price gap between itself and other higher-end tape drive technologies, the company still has a significant way to go before it presents a real alternative to the likes of Sony Corp.’s advanced intelligence tape (AIT) drives and Exabyte Corp.’s VXA or variable speed architecture drives, analyst Abraham said. He expects HP to make a further Ultrium price cut within a few quarters.

Unlike other tape drive vendors, HP manufactures its own drives, according to Davis, allowing the company to better control product quality and more easily build features into the devices. HP designs the tape drives in Boise, Idaho, and Bristol, U.K., and tests them at other HP facilities around the world. The final assembly takes place in Hungary, which is why the drives say “Made in Hungary” on them, Davis said.

HP makes much of the inclusion of the One-Button Disaster Recovery feature on its drives, first announced on May 19, and which appears on the drives announced Monday. The feature allows customers to push a single button to recover their entire server configuration.

When SMBs think about disaster recovery, they typically think in terms of a major catastrophe like a hurricane, according to James Lomonaco, HP’s worldwide small and midsized business marketing manager.

“In reality, the greatest number of incidents occur in simple everyday situations where someone drops a server,” he said. Lomonaco gave the example of an HP customer in California who had to recover its data after a storm drain backed up and flooded the office where unfortunately all of the servers were set up on the floor.

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