Quantum, Overland get LTO-5 tape backup ball rolling

LTO-5 is available from Quantum and Overland Storage with others sure to follow soon. LTO-5 offers improvements such as higher capacity and partitioning. But how quickly will tape users embrace this technology?

LTO-5 tape has arrived, bringing larger capacity and faster transfer rates for organizations relying on tape for their backups. Quantum Corp. today began offering general availability of LTO-5 tape autoloaders, drives and media, and launched an early customer adoption program of LTO-5 for its Scalar tape libraries. Last week, Overland Storage rolled out an E Series of its NEO tape libraries with LTO-5.

Other vendors are expected to follow soon with LTO-5 tape products, according to the LTO Program roadmap calling for the launch of LTO-5 early this year.

LTO-5 cartridges have twice the capacity of LTO-4 tape, holding 1.5 TB native and 3 TB compressed data. The data transfer rate increases from 120 MBps to 140 MBps native, and 240 MBps to 280 MBps compressed. LTO-5 carries over LTO-4 features such as hardware encryption and adds a partitioning functionality that lets applications index data on tape to make it easier to access.

"Partitioning alleviates that ability for search and discovery, and ultimately restore by segmenting out the actual tape cartridge and tape media so you don't have to spool through the entire tape cartridge," IDC analyst Robert Amatruda said. "They're giving it the ability to have a recall restore much more efficiently."

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Bruce Master, senior program manager for IBM Corp. – one of the developers of LTO technology – agrees that partitioning is a key feature for LTO-5. "We feel this will be one of the biggest features users will be interested in," said Master. "Partitioning allows the user to see what's on the tape, allowing for faster searches. It also enhances processing."

LTO-5 has backwards compatible read-and-write capabilities with LTO-4 to make for smooth upgrades. However, LTO-5 only has read capabilities with LTO-3, which could make it a bit trickier to upgrade from older tape systems.

"In some instances, [an upgrade] can be a problem," Amatruda said. "But it's not really a show-stopper. If it's economically beneficial for [organizations] to upgrade to a higher density removable media, they'll likely do it."

LTO-5 tape upgrade won't happy immediately for most

Even with the advantages, implementation of LTO-5 tape libraries will likely be gradual. While upgrading from LTO-4 should be easy, it might be unnecessary for now for customers who recently installed an LTO-4 library. And LTO-5 tape probably isn't enough to sway organizations using disk data backup to switch to tape backup.

"For customers who use tape, if they're meeting their capacity requirements with their current generation, LTO-5 would not necessarily be a must-have initially," Amatruda said. "For the people who do not use tape, such as smaller companies who are using online data backup or Software-as-a-Service [SaaS] or cloud backup, those folks have turned away from tape quite some time ago."

Those who are sticking with tape see LTO-5 as welcome news, even if they don't plan on upgrading immediately.

Dick Cosby, system administrator at Electronic Data Processing Services (EDPS) in Richmond, VA has been using LTO tape technology since it was first released, and is now looking to upgrade to LTO-5. He originally chose to implement LTO technology into his tape storage system because of its reliability, performance, ease of use, minimal support of staff training required and the fact that it's virtualized.

"Essentially, LTO technology is hands-free," Cosby said. "We tell it what to do, and between the software and the libraries, it just operates with virtually no manual intervention. We eject cartridges to take them offsite and load them back, but other than that, the libraries do it themselves."

Other tape customers are in less of a hurry, although they may like knowing LTO systems are advancing. Keith Steger, CFO of electrical supplies distributor Eck Supply Co., said his company uses LTO-2 technology, and is looking to upgrade to LTO-4 for increased speed and capacity. He's following the LTO roadmap because he may need higher capacities down the road.

"[LTO technology] has been ahead of where we need to be right now, but the whole product line goes exactly forward on the path to where we need to advance," said Steger. "It's staying ahead of us, no doubt, but we like that because by the time we get there, it will have been tried and proven."

LTO-6 and beyond?

The LTO Ultrium group already has LTO-6 on its roadmap, with 6.4 TB capacity and 540 MBps transfer rates. And, Amatruda said continued data growth will likely mean future development for LTO technology.

"I would suspect there has to be another generation beyond LTO-6," he said. "What happens on the development roadmap is that they'll define one generation from a specification standpoint, and if they need to make enhancements or more breakthroughs, they will start to understand what those changes or innovations need to be. Once they get those ironed out, they'll start to work on another generation."

Organizations using tape need to know the technology is sound.

"It's critical and essential," said Steger. "You can't sleep at night if you don't have proper tape backup."

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