Backward compatibility key to new tape drive buys

StorageTek's newest T9840C FICON tape drives promise significant performance improvements for IBM mainframe users, but the real key to any user's buying decision is backward compatibility.

Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek), Louisville, Colo., plans to roll out FICON support for its new "fast access" T9840C tape drive this week. And as the industry's main supplier of native FICON and ESCON tape drives for IBM zSeries environments, StorageTek expects T9840 users will adopt the new drives in order to take advantage of higher speeds and capacities for their current T9840 media.

StorageTek's T9840C features a 12-second average data access time, 30 MB/sec data throughput rate and 40 GB native cartridge capacity. The T9840C also features StorageTek's VolSafe Write-Once-Read-Many (WORM) technology.

But, when it comes to tape drives, the overriding factor in many users' buying decisions is backward compatibility for existing media.

Jerry Percell, senior product marketing manager for StorageTek's automated tape solutions group, said StorageTek has it covered. "For the customers that have been utilizing T9840 drive technology, there is no difference in the tape cartridge. The drive is also backward-read compatible, meaning cartridges used on the T9840 and T9840B can be read on the new T9840C."

"These days the cost of the media becomes a large part of the total cost of ownership. [With the backward compatibility of the T9840C] users essentially don't have to buy media as frequently," he said.

As the manager of the storage administration team for Aegon USA, who's operating companies offer life insurance, pensions, investment and supplemental health insurance products in the US, Kevin Balmer controls more than 500 TB of storage. A good portion of which is utilizing StorageTek technology.

"We were running older versions of [StorageTek's 9840 drives] and that technology was coming up on lease termination. It was time to swap them out or consider alternatives," Balmer said.

Balmer considered replacing his StorageTek drives with IBM technology, but "would have had to buy all new media." Ultimately, the StorageTek 9840c won out due to backward compatibility with Aegon's legacy media. "Plus, we'll achieve performance benefits, save money in the budget on media this year and keep our operating expenses flat," he said.

"We'll have the 9840c's for at least three years and then we'll say 'OK, what do we do now?' IBM has a competitive offering, disk is getting cheaper and it will be interesting to see what StorageTek comes back with," Balmer said.

When you take into consideration that tape media can last for years, backward compatibility becomes a necessity when evaluating a new tape drive.

"The coating on tape media has been improved over the years to be more resilient and have a longer life," said Dianne McAdam, senior analyst and partner with the Data Mobility Group Inc., Nashua, N.H. "Recently, StorageTek tested metal particle tapes that had been stored in the lab for 14 years and found the media had good durability and performance after all of those years. Their testing of more recent tapes with improved coatings [showed they] were even more durable."

End users moving from T9840 ESCON drives or T9840B FICON drives will have media compatibility with the T9840C FICON. StorageTek will deliver native FICON connectivity for the T9840C's sister drive, the high capacity T9940B, later in 2004.

The new T9840C sells for the same list price as the T9840B. The ESCON version of the drive costs slightly less due to its performance constraints. FICON is roughly eight times faster than ESCON.


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