Despite the odds, tape libraries endure

Long after industry analysts tolled their death knell, automated tape libraries are alive and well, and about to take an even more prominent place in the Canadian market according to resellers.

Spectra Logic Corp., a Boulder,

Colo., based automated tape library manufacturer, announced this week that it has signed up four Canadian VARs. Axidata Inc., Care Factor Computer Services Inc., DAR-ProLan and Stoneworks Technologies Inc. all will now offer Spectra Logic Corp.’s tape libraries to their customers as a data storage and backup solution option.

Secure storage of data is a concern for most enterprises, says Lucio Bergamin, Axidata Inc. director of storage networking sales, and nothing on the market compares to the reliability and cost-effectiveness of tape libraries.

“”A tape cartridge today — an AIT — can hold 260GB compressed. And the cost of a cartridge is around $100. A hard drive with that storage capacity isn’t available yet. I think 180GB is the biggest they’ve got and you’re looking at paying close to $1000 for it,”” says Bergamin.

A tried and tested technology that’s lower priced, like a tape, is going to be more attractive to IT managers, even if new technologies offer convenient features tapes do not, says Evans Research Corp. senior market analyst Jennifer Ewen. In the recently completed Storage End User Study, Ewen found that the polled Canadian enterprises have not moved away from the use of tape-based storage solutions, much to the surprise of industry analysts.

“”Forty-five per cent of the End User Study respondents said that they plan to purchase tape to deal with their storage issues,”” says Ewen. “”This caught us off-guard. We expected people to use SAN or NAS, but tape came out on top.””

Other than cost effectiveness, says Bergamin, automated tape libraries are a good option for enterprise data storage and backup because they take the responsibility for backup out of human hands.

“”Standalone tape drives mean that you don’t need anybody in an office to do it manually,”” he says. “”Which is an advantage since human error counts for probably 40 per cent of the reason why back ups don’t get done.””

Tape libraries also allow off-site storage of the cartridges, something which can become critically important in case of an emergency at the enterprise site, says Brian Grainger, Spectra Logic regional sales director for Canada and Southeast United States

“”The most important part of your network is the data. If you lose a building and you lose all your hardware, if you’ve stored your data offsite you still have it on these tapes,”” says Grainger. “”You can’t ignore the fact that you can’t pick a disc drive up and take it out of your building in a cost effective fashion and store it remotely in case of disaster.””

Tape libraries fall short of disc based options like SANs and NAS, says Ewen, when it comes to the amount of uses and features they offer.

“”Disc based technologies have a number of advantages over tape-based technologies including random access, faster backup and restore. You can also do things like mirroring, real time and snap shots with disc technology that you can’t do with tape,”” says Ewen.

That being said, she notes that most enterprises are getting around those shortfalls by using their tape libraries in conjunction with SANs and NAS.

This type of co-use is what Grainger sees as the biggest opportunity for Spectra Logic to move ahead of the automated tape library manufacturer competition.

“”You can put our library on a SAN and allow multiple users access to it,”” says Grainger. “”If you bought one of our units last year and it operates on a standard Ethernet network and now you want to design a SAN in your company, just give us a call and we’ll swap out the interface board. With most of our competitors you’d have to buy a whole new library. “”

Spectra Logic’s flexibility will be an advantage for them and the Canadian VARs they work with, says Jody Burton, Stoneworks Technologies Inc. CEO, since it’s what Canadian enterprises expect from their service providers.

“” Having the ability to work with clients and make changes to the products based on customer needs was one of the factors that initially attracted us to Spectra Logic, it’s very important to us and our customers. As was the reliability of their product and the support they provide,”” says Burton

Although storage and backup needs are becoming key to enterprises in all sectors of industry, Ewen says that the initial forecasts of a market that would grow by up to 90 per cent annually were exaggerated.

“”It’s really more like a 37 per cent compound annual growth,”” she says.

However, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re all generating more and more data and it needs to be stored and backed up, says Graingerå.

“”This is not a sexy business and every year you hear people saying tapes are dead, he says.”” People have been saying that for 20 years and yet somehow we’re still here,””

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