IBM prepping open systems virtual tape?

To keep up with the growth of virtual tape in the open systems market, sources say IBM may soon be partnering with a software vendor.

As virtual tape gains more acceptance, IBM may be looking to capitalize on this popularity by expanding to an open systems version of its mainframe virtual tape library, called the TotalStorage 3494 Virtual Tape Server (VTS), sources close to IBM said.

The VTS, which works exclusively on mainframes and costs approximately $500,000, is a disk subsystem that emulates tape, improving performance by reducing the physical movement of tape, the amount of tapes required and the operational costs of tape.

But with more open systems users implementing virtual tape systems and rival StorageTek Corp. set to release an open systems version of its mainframe virtual tape system in the first half of 2005, it's likely that IBM will dip into the growing open systems space with a VTL.

According to sources close to the company, IBM issued a request for information (RFI) and a request for proposal (RFP) in October of 2004 for an open systems-based virtual tape library, but is still in the evaluation process.

"So don't hold your breath," said a spokesman for one vendor that has submitted an RFP, and requested anonymity.

Curtis Preston, vice president of service development at Glasshouse Technologies, Framingham, Mass. said that virtual tape libraries in the mainframe market are more mature than open systems simply because they've been around longer. "Any mainframe user who needs a VTL already has one. So the real VTL growth is happening in open systems," he said.

One potential VTL partner for IBM is NearTek Inc., a software-only virtual tape vendor based in Westborough, Mass. NearTek's Virtual Storage Engine (VSE) is software that offers support for both mainframe and open systems platforms. VSE masks the physical tape to the host by emulating tape devices through virtual drives and then transfers data to tape, disk or both.

Diligent is another company that offers mainframe and open systems VTL software, but unlike NearTek, Diligent does so with two different products: VTF Mainframe and VTF Open.

Preston said that NearTek's support of mainframe and open systems in one piece of software has made them "an amalgam summary of everyone else's features -- and I mean that as a compliment."

One new feature of NearTek's VSE Preston lauded was "stacking," where virtual tapes are bundled so more volumes can fit on one physical tape.

It's worth noting that NearTek is expected to announce certification with IBM's tape and disk systems this week.

If IBM chooses to go with a software partner for an open systems VTL, some potential companies for the job other than NearTek are Diligent Technologies Corp., Sepaton Inc. and FalconStor Software.

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