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Virtual tape offers first step toward disk-based backup

Maxxan Systems wants to make disk-based virtual tape libraries the de facto standard for backup and recovery -- and they're not alone. A growing number of storage vendors and industry experts believe that tape's days are numbered and that VTL technology may be a sign of things to come.

Maxxan Systems Inc. wants to make disk-based virtual tape library (VTL) technology the de facto standard for backup and recovery -- and it's not alone. A growing number of storage vendors and industry experts believe that tape's days are numbered and that VTL technology may be a sign of things to come.

Maxxan, San Jose, Calif., on Monday launched two disk-based virtual tape library (VTL) appliances that utilize existing backup servers and software and centralize the management of data. The new SVT100 virtual tape library appliance is a standalone system, and the SVT200 features a blade architecture and requires a Maxxan MXV320T intelligent application switch in order to function. The system's software is based on IPStor software from FalconStor Software Inc., a Maxxan partner.

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The VTL appliances can use Fibre Channel or IP to back up and restore data from disk-based virtual tape. The appliances support several backup software applications, including CA Brightstor, Legato Networker, HP Data Protector, Veritas BackupExec, Veritas NetBackup, Syncsort Backup Express and Tivoli Storage Manager. Additionally, the appliances can be configured to emulate LTO, SDLT and StorageTek 9840 tape drives and libraries from ADIC, HP, IBM and StorageTek.

Ravi Chalaka, Maxxan's vice president of marketing, said: "Our new virtual tape library appliances eliminate per-server software licenses, simplify management of backup processes and utilize existing hardware and software assets."

Data movement between the VTL appliance's disk-based virtual tapes and physical tape media is a secondary task, which allows disk-to-tape migration to be completed at any time without affecting application performance. Maxxan will offer optional software services over the next 60 days, including tape mirroring, replication and capacity on demand.

"Protecting data by backing it up to tape may have been OK five years ago, but it's not valid today," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group. "It's inconsistent with today's enterprise and the amount of data that's being generated. Tape has really lost steam."

Disk-based backup is gaining momentum because the technology has matured and the cost of disk is dropping fast. "Disks are now priced in a zone where people can start considering them," Taneja said. "The technology curve and the demand have now converged, which doesn't always happen. Now we have a massive product onslaught in the disk-to-disk backup arena."

Virtual tape libraries may be the gateway technology that allow disk to become the mainstream backup option of choice. Point your backup server to your disk-based virtual tape library instead of your traditional tape system and you're done.

"The least disruptive method of going to disk-to-disk is the virtual tape library method," Taneja said. "Users can roll in this VTL, which is physically a disk system but behaves, looks and feels like a tape library. Users want to go to disk but don't want to make wholesale changes. To that user, I say this is the least disruptive way of getting into it."

Maxxan is not alone in the virtual tape market. Network Appliance Inc., Quantum Corp. and Advanced Digital Information Corp. each has its own flavor of VTL on the market. Despite the industry hype around the technology, virtual tape is not a new concept.

"StorageTek and IBM have had VTL technologies for years," said Nancy Marrone-Hurley, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group Inc., Milford, Mass. "Of course, those were a bit more proprietary than the solutions that are being announced these days. Maxxan's offering supports multiple backup applications and libraries."

In a recent study, the Enterprise Storage Group found that 23% of enterprise customers had already adopted VTL and that an additional 23% were evaluating VTL technologies. The adoption rate was much lower in midtier markets, in the area of 5%.

"We expect that VTL technologies will gain significant traction this year," Marrone-Hurley said. "Considering the backup window is still the user's No. 1 data protection issue. Any technology that helps reduce the time to perform backups is very beneficial."

Pricing for the SVT100 starts at $39,000. Pricing for the SVT200 starts at $35,000.

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