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ANSI approves new Auxiliary Memory tape standard

A new standard has emerged in the world of tape media. Four heavy-hitters in the storage world, Sony Electronics, Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Veritas Software Corp., collaborated on the development and submission of a proposal for the Auxiliary Memory (AM) content and interface standard to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The group approved the standard on Friday.

The AM specification promotes a common interface method for applications software to enhance tape data access, data management and media management.

Sony's implementation of Auxiliary Memory is contained in its Memory-in-Cassette (MIC) architecture introduced with the AIT (Advanced Intelligent Tape) technology in 1997. MIC contains System Log pages that capture media and data integrity statistics, such as load counts, access counts, and error correction counts. MIC, together with the new ANSI standard, is able to provide host applications with a "line of sight" to these statistics regarding the integrity of the media and its contents. MIC also provides a direct and immediate connection to the AIT drive's on-board processors to enable quick media load, fast access to user files, multiple on-tape load and unload points, and a wealth of data about the history and current state of the data cartridge.

Sony says that with the standardized Auxiliary Memory interface specification media management software can utilize the information stored on the Auxiliary Memory chip and proactively take action to protect a user's stored data. In addition, the data stored in the MIC stays with the media, regardless of the system or application being used, thereby providing a built-in, permanent "legacy" of prior use or performance.

Each of the four companies backing the new AM standard point to the benefits of the technology and the opportunity for a more comprehensive data protection and archiving solution than conventional tape media configurations, but some think their real aim is proprietary in nature.

Robert Amatruda, analyst for International Data Corp. (IDC), said that the vendors endorsing the new standard are big and want to make sure that the AM standard fosters growth in their respective, related markets. "There are some pretty large vendors involved. It's all in their self-interest. Sony, HP, and Compaq want to sell more hardware and Veritas wants to expand their domain." Amatruda pointed out that not all tape media will standardize on the new AM specification.

Amatruda said that Quantum Corp.'s Digital Linear Tape (DLT) media, as well as IBM's Linear Tape Open (LTO) cartridges have their own proprietary way of partitioning and will not standardize on Sony's version of Auxiliary Memory.

Steve Baker, vice president of the Tape Storage Solutions Division for Sony Electronics' Component Company said that the standard was developed due to an outcry from independent software vendors (ISVs) who didn't want to support varying implementations of Auxiliary Memory.

Baker says that the AM standard is extremely beneficial to the end-user. "What [AM] does is give a common protocol to address accessing the memory chip. We store a special search map on the MIC. The cartridge moves to a specific location on the tape immediately."

"It holds lots of information that helps the end-user like media length and media width. It also allows software to better handle the media," Baker said.

Also stored on the chip is manufacturing information, serial numbers, and the manufacture date of the tape. Baker says that quick, easy access to this type of information allows the end user to trace and diagnose known problems with media and constantly ensures that your data is on fresh media.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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