NetApp takes first steps into virtual tape

Network Appliance has moved into the hotly-contested virtual tape library market with the release this week of its first VTL models.

The single-head NearStore VTL600 and the dual-head VTL1200, which emulate physical tape libraries, are also the first NetApp products aimed at multi-vendor environments. They can connect from backup software from Tivoli, ComVault, CA Legato and others and to tape libraries from EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun and Hitachi.

Virtual tape libraries use hard drives connected to backup servers to give better service to physical tape libraries, which are still used by many companies for long-term storage.

Many backup servers can’t keep up with the spooling demands of tape, causing a stopping and starting effect of the tapes known as “shoe-shining.”

Thanks to their architecture and software, the new NetApp VTL solutions are less prone to that, according to Kris Padmanabhan, general manager of NetApp’s heterogeneous data protection unit.

“They give the backup server a much more high-performance target, so you get your backups done in the available time, and the second thing it does . . . is use your physical tape library more efficiently than before,” he said.

“This is a big point for customers,” added Jeff Goldstein, NetApps’ Canadian general manager. “Many have figured out how to do it (backup to tape), but it’s fragile. They’re doing it with (staff) who are not the most highly paid people in the organization. What we’re trying to do is use the best practices they’ve built, but make it more robust.”

Padmanabhan also said, that unlike some other vendors, NetApp’s VTL’s don’t need a server for their software. Instead, the software is integrated into their controller heads and disk subsystems.

They also use what NetApp calls smart-sizing technology to match the amount of data on each virtual tape to a physical tape cartridge, thus cutting down on the number of tapes needed for backups.

The two systems, which scale from 4.5TB to 168 TB using 500GB SATA drives, are aimed at medium-to-large companies, with pricing starting at US$114,000.

Stephanie Balaouras, a storage analyst with Forrester Research, said the new products are a “solid solution” that brings NetApp into heterogeneous data centre environments. Moving to virtual tape libraries is “top of mind” for many IT managers, she said.

However, she added, the VTL market is crowded with entries from HP, IBM, EMC and several startups.

“The challenge for Network Appliance will be getting outside their non-traditional base,” she added.

NearStore VTL’s will be sold both by NetApp’s sales staff to named large accounts and through the channel, Goldstein said.

NetApp also announced it will be offering VTL, disaster recovery and backup and recovery consulting and implementation services, which will also be done through its solution providers.

Scott Wagner, president of Zentra Solutions, a Calgary-based NetApp partner with offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, welcomed the new VTL line.

“It’s a burning need in the marketplace,” he said. “We’ve got an existing base of customers that are buying tape and they’ll be a prime target for this.”


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