Anyone who thinks that tape is dead, or even on its last legs, only needs to check the latest data from IDC to confirm that tape is very much alive. While the tape market is not growing as fast as it was in previous years, IDC announced that in calendar year 2007 LTO drive shipments increased by 15 percent over the previous year and the midrange tape automation market generated $1.3 billion in revenue.
This robust market continues to spur innovation from companies such as Overland Storage, whose customer base still heavily relies upon NEO SERIES tape libraries and the ARCvault family of autoloaders and libraries as part of their data protection strategies. According to Peri Grover, Overland Storage’s Director of Product Management, innovation remains important to the company’s customers because their data storage requirements continue to grow. “It may seem obvious, but companies still need technologies – including tape technologies – that can keep up with this growth,” she says.
The introduction of disk into the backup process is, however, impacting how Overland is innovating its tape libraries and autoloaders. For example, the increasing popularity of disk as the initial target for backup and recovery is taking the pressure off tape drive manufacturers to continually double tape drive performance every 18 to 24 months. While tape drive capacities are still doubling every generation, the ability to get back data faster is, according to Grover, solved somewhat by the use of disk, so market forces are no longer driving the push for faster tape speeds. “LTO-4 is already at 120 MB/sec and few companies can drive their backup jobs at those speeds,” she adds.
What is emerging as a premium among Overland’s customers is the availability and reliability of their data. For example, tape drives are the most common failure point in a tape autoloader or library. Unfortunately, this can put companies out of commission, since it often means either backup jobs cannot be completed (if backing up directly to tape) or data cannot be moved offsite for disaster recovery. This scenario has prompted Overland to introduce half-height LTO tape drives in its ARCvault autoloaders and libraries. ARCvault’s compact form factor is reliant on small form factor tape drives that can optimize the efficiency and affordability of the solution. Resulting benefits include:
- Improved Redundancy. In the event one half-height LTO tape drive fails, customers still have an additional tape drive to continue backup and archive operations.
- No Forklift Upgrades. Two half-height LTO tape drives fit into the same space as one full-height LTO tape drive. This means even if customers purchase or own an ARCvault 24 autoloader that has space for only one full-height LTO tape drive, they can now install two half-height drives in that space without needing a hardware upgrade.
- Approximately the Same Cost as One Full-Height LTO Tape Drive. The costs for half-height LTO tape drives will vary, but Overland’s Grover estimates that one half-height LTO tape drive costs about 60 percent of one full-height LTO tape drive. This means that users can get the same high-capacity solution at a fraction of the cost while ultimately improving their price/performance.
- Two Halves Make More Than a Full. Despite the fact that half-height LTO tape drives are half the size of full-height LTO tape drives, half-heights operate at 80 MB/sec–two-thirds the speed of their full-height equivalent (120 MB/sec). Installing a pair of half-height LTO tape drives could therefore result in a net increase in throughput speeds (160 MB/sec), since both tape drives can operate at the same time.
While the role of disk in data protection strategies may have affected the direction of tape innovation, tape is not dead and innovation is still occurring. Even as the demand for higher tape capacities continues, the push for faster tape speeds is slackening off. As it does, Overland Storage is using this as an opportunity to introduce new half-height LTO tape drives as an option for their NEO tape libraries and ARCvault autoloaders that address end-user concerns about tape drive availability and reliability without requiring dramatic changes to corporate backup infrastructures.