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Imation readies disk inside tape

Tape maker Imation has built a SATA drive into a tape cartridge to enable disk-based restores from a regular tape library, seemingly without any fuss, or much expense.

NEW YORK -- At a pre-briefing at Storage Decisions in New York, Imation Corp. announced it will unveil a product next week that lets users get into the disk-based backup game without having to spend reams of money on new appliances or modify their existing tape libraries.

The new product, dubbed Ulysses, consists of two elements: a 2.5 inch Serial ATA (SATA) drive inside an LTO Ultrium tape cartridge and a tape emulator that fits into the standard drive bay of any LTO-2 tape library. It is recognized by the host, backup software and storage management software as a regular tape drive, company officials said.

However, "Instead of recovering data at tape speeds, our testing showed Ulysses can restore six out of 100,000 files 7-10 times faster than LTO-2 tape," said Yung Yip, an Imation "magnetician" engineer and the drive's primary designer. In other words, users can drop a Ulysses cartridge into a tape library and recover data as fast as restoring from disk.

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Ulysses hits the market just as companies are starting to investigate new, disk-based backup systems designed to improve on the tiresome process of restoring from tape. It supports 100 GB native capacity, 200 GB with compression, which is about the same at LTO-2. The emulator is forward compatible with higher speed and higher capacity cartridges, unlike with new tapes, which force users to upgrade the drives.

Dianne McAdam, a partner and analyst at Data Mobility Group, said the product allows companies to "try out disk backup without spending a lot of money." Imation is still working out the pricing, but it's expected to cost from $5,000 to $7,000 to add Ulysses to your tape library. "It's a little more expensive than LTO-2, but not much," McAdam said.

"It's a clever idea -- it's small, transportable and fast," said Bob Abraham, analyst with Freeman Reports. "It changes the game in terms of packaging."

One potential drawback to the product is whether it is rugged enough to withstand being removed. "We're not used to pulling disks out and putting them in again," McAdam said. Imation noted that the Ulysses cartridge has been designed to withstand a drop from a height of 30 inches onto commercial grade carpeting. [Ed note: Sounds rough!] Similar drops are used to measure midrange tape cartridges.

There's no support for encryption in this version either, which is essential these days for any removable media used in a business environment.

Other companies developing similar products include SpectraLogic, ADIC and Overland Storage Inc., although their systems are proprietary.

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