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Exabyte offers cheap LTO automation

A new library from Exabyte is the first automated tape library in an autoloader form factor, according to industry analysts. But if Exabyte builds it, will SMBs come?

Exabyte Corp. introduced the Magnum 224 LTO (Ultrium) tape library, aimed at small and midsized businesses (SMB) and remote/branch offices this week, and industry experts say its small form factor and inexpensive automation make it a unique SMB offering.

"It's basically a tape library in the footprint of an autoloader or a stacker," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group.

The primary difference between the Magnum 224 and the autoloaders that typically make their way into SMB shops, Schulz said, was the automation -- the Magnum includes a robot that retrieves tapes and keeps track of them using a bar code scanner.

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"Other entry-level tape products have belts or pulleys that are likely to break," Schulz said. "If it's going to be a remote or small environment, a product should actually be more rugged and durable."

Schulz also praised the tape library's scalability -- the 3U library comes with a base configuration of one half-height LTO-2 drive and a magazine that will hold a dozen cartridges, but the box also includes a space for a second LTO-2 drive and another magazine to be added later. Alternatively, users can start with a single LTO-3 drive and one 12-cartridge magazine, and add a second magazine.

But the most important thing, Schulz said, was that the product allowed users, who don't normally have access to an automated tape library, to benefit from the technology.

"For users struggling with tape backup, this will help automate the process," Schulz said.

That is, of course, if SMB users want it. It's definitely priced for smaller businesses -- pricing starts at $4,600 for the base configuration with one LTO-2 drive and one 12-cartridge magazine; the LTO-3 1x12 version is available for $6,000. Exabyte is also throwing in an on-site service warranty for $450 and an upgrade from one to two LTO-2 drives is available for $2,358.

But there have been some signs that SMB users -- particularly those at the very low end -- are shifting toward disk, given its quicker restore times and considerable vendor hype around its ease of use. Most recently, for example, IBM released an SMB version of Tivoli Storage Manager software that only supports disk-based primary backups. Symantec Corp. also recently announced PureDisk, a backup product targeted at SMBs whose stated goal is the elimination of the need for tape-based backup in small shops and remote offices.

Steven Schuchart, a senior analyst with Current Analysis Inc., said he's seen SMB users taken in by all the hype around disk-based backup. But, he said, it doesn't always make sense.

"Someone I know who has a small office said to me, 'I think I'm going to try disk-based backup.' I said, why? He has four servers and his building is next to an airport. I said to him, 'how are you going to get the data off site?' "

According to Schuchart, "Anyone who doesn't have geographically dispersed data centers and the money for the bandwidth to replicate data between them needs tape."

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