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Overland refurbishes NEO midrange tape libraries

Struggling tape vendor Overland Storage has been trying to reinvent itself with new disk products, but analysts say midrange tape's not dead yet.

Overland Storage has updated its NEO line of midrange tape automation products with two new models called the E-Series that cost less and are easier to connect to backup servers than their predecessors.

The NEO 2000E and 4000E are based on the same chassis as the previous NEO 2000 and 4000. The NEO 2000E still contains 30 slots in 5U, and the NEO 4000E contains 60 slots in 10U. The individual modular chassis can be stacked up as capacity scales, with support for up to eight NEO 2000s and up to four NEO 4000s in a 40U rack.

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However, director of marketing and OEM relationships Peri Grover said the E-Series products will cost $5,000 to $10,000 less than the previous versions, thanks to a new controller that embeds more connectivity functions into the hardware and eliminates the need for separate network bridging technologies.

Previously, customers had to use a bridge card and cabling that cost about $2,000 to attach the libraries via Fibre Channel (FC). "With the 4000 today [before the E-Series] if you have four FC drives, you need five cables and you're also taking up five ports on the switch, all of which costs money," Grover said.

Similarly, the new libraries will natively perform partitioning without needing a separate card. Overland will add native 3 Gbps SAS connectivity in the second quarter. Finally, the E Series uses a protocol called ADI to connect to networks, as opposed to a less flexible protocol called ACI. "In the old world, 6 Gbps SAS support would've required another new bridge," Grover said. "This new technology allows for a direct connection."

The new library design also allows entire 15-slot magazines of cartridges to be pulled out at once, rather than the previous mail slot that limited tape removal to one at a time. Grover says this feature becomes more important as tape becomes more focused on archiving and disaster recovery rather than on day-to-day operational backups.

Overland's tape business has struggled in recent years after losing major OEM deals with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. in 2007. The company began to diversify its product line, branching out from tape automation into the virtual tape library and disk-based backup space, and acquired Adaptec's Snap NAS product line last year.

Still, the down economy and continuing losses meant several rounds of layoffs for the company, which found an 11th hour $9 million financing deal -- the only thing between it and suspending operations in December. Late last month, the company replaced Vern LoForti with Snap veteran Eric Kelly as CEO.

Given its attempts to diversify, re-investing in the tape line was something the company approached carefully. Grover said Overland has worked with analysts and partners to determine the demand for midrange tape libraries. According to IDC, tape remains a $1 billion market opportunity in the midrange through 2011. The strongest segment within that are tape libraries with between 21 and 100 slots, which is where NEO fits.

"Tape never really goes away, it continues to evolve," IDC analyst Robert Amatruda said. He pointed to the video surveillance market, where "enhancing and positioning NAS along with tape represents an opportunity for Overland."

The NEO E-Series products are available now. The NEO 2000E has a starting price of $12,333, and the 4000E's entry-level price is $26,662.

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