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Linear Tape File System slow to take hold for general-purpose storage

The use of LTFS has taken off in certain markets, but compatible products for general-purpose storage and archiving have been slow to develop.

In May, QStar Technologies announced that its QStar Archive Manager and Archive Replicator software now offers support across all tape drives and libraries that are compatible with the Linear Tape File System.

According to QStar, its software allows tape libraries to use the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) within any archiving environment and application. The software can manage data across "tens, hundreds or thousands of pieces of tape media, as a single network share," the company said.

Traditionally, LTFS technology creates a network share for each piece of media. QStar calls this technology "LTFS spanning," and it automatically adds new tapes to the share as tapes reach capacity.

This got us at thinking: Why haven't there been more LTFS developments for storage and archiving? A few years ago, we expected to see a raft of archiving applications taking advantage of the Linear Tape File System. But that really hasn't really played out the way we anticipated. LTFS has taken hold in the media and entertainment world, but has made much less of an impact in other industries.

After media and entertainment, LTFS has seen the most adoption in the medical industry, according to Jon Toigo, CEO of Toigo Partners International. But Toigo, who has been an outspoken advocate of the Linear Tape File System and tape in general, said that there are a number of things that could be hampering interest and adoption among end users.

"IBM somewhat understated the difficulty in building out an LTFS server front end for a tape library," Toigo said. "They essentially said, 'Just download LTFS for free from the IBM or LTO and install it on a server, and you're in business.'" In reality, it's not so easy, he went on to say, adding that building an LTFS server from scratch can feel like a "science fair project." "You can do it," Toigo said. "But it is a lot easier to deploy a product like Crossroads' StrongBox appliance."

One of the biggest impediments to Linear Tape File System adoption is people's perceptions about tape itself, said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Jason Buffington. "Frankly, the main thing holding LTFS back is the stigma of tape from two decades ago, that it was slow or unreliable back when folks were first pitching backup-to-disk."

Vendor reluctance also has been a factor hampering the development of LTFS products. The Linear Tape File System is not a standalone system, but requires drivers to integrate it with whatever file system a user may be using and write the LTFS format to tape, Toigo said, citing IBM FUSE, or Filesystem in Userspace, as an example. According to Toigo, other vendors have their own drivers and might not want to use IBM's FUSE drivers. This could have an impact on user interest as well. "Many consider FUSE to be a lock-in to IBM."

IBM has made moves to develop a formal standard for LTFS through the Storage Networking Industry Association, Toigo said. He believes that this also has had "a chilling effect" on the development of LTFS-compatible products designed for general-purpose storage and archiving from other vendors.

"LTFS itself is strong," said Curtis Preston, CEO of media company Truth in IT. "What's missing are large vendors supporting it as a native format. There are some smaller vendors, like Crossroads and QStar, that have fully integrated LTFS solutions. And big guys, like Quantum and FileTek, have added import/export support for LTFS. But, it is major work for them to make LTFS a native format in their file system, and I don't think enough customers are telling them they need to do this."

This may be the case because many end users simply aren't aware of what LTFS is and does, Preston said. "I'd say less than 10% of the IT world even knows what LTFS is," he said. "And an even smaller number are advocates ready to vote with their dollars, buying something from Crossroads [rather than a larger storage vendor]."

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