Storage Consolidation Opens Window for Enterprise-Class Automated Tape Libraries

For years, the key buzzword in storage has been "more." As corporate data growth accelerated, storage administrators threw more hardware and software at the problem. As demand for storage capacity increased, the price for hardware and software fell, but the demand just grew further.

No sign indicates that data growth will abate anytime soon. In fact, with rich, new media becoming more commonplace, data growth should continue to accelerate. However, throwing more capacity at every problem is no longer the only response. Better use of existing capacity through storage-management software and storage consolidation has begun to top many storage administrators' agendas.

Several factors are fueling this trend. First, although storage hardware and software might be relatively inexpensive, managing the storage infrastructure isn't. Storage capacity has grown faster than the availability of experienced storage administrators. Consequently, although the initial price of hardware and software might look attractive, because IT staffing costs are high, both the total cost of ownership (TCO) and the long-term Return on Investment (ROI) are less appealing.

Second, enterprises are increasingly seeing their data as a corporate asset rather than merely a data-center asset. Companies are not only storing more data, which requires more backup capacity, but also archiving more data—and they must be able to access that data more quickly than ever before. To address their storage needs, companies are collocating storage infrastructure so that they can manage capacity from one center and setting up remote archival centers to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.

The pressure for storage consolidation has led library manufacturers to introduce enterprise-scale, automated-tape libraries with unprecedented capacity. Leading the charge is StorageTek, which recently unveiled an automated-tape library with a mind-boggling total capacity of 13 petabytes (13PB) of storage. StorageTek has positioned its L5500 automated-tape library, with a total of 132,000 slots and 960 available drives, at the top end of its line.

StorageTek developed such a huge tape-library system designed to work in an open-systems environment for a simple reason: Data continues to grow faster than tape capacity and data-transfer speeds. Large companies must be able to manage an ever-increasing number of tape cartridges. According to StorageTek officials, many of its midrange tape-library customers who use the company's L700e (which has a top capacity of 1340 slots and 40 drives) were clamoring for more capacity.In addition to high-end, half-inch tape cartridges, the L5500 uses Linear Tape-Open (LTO) technology, which is making impressive gains in the midrange tape-library market. In late March, Gartner reported that tape drives built using LTO technology out-shipped drives based on the more established Super DLTtape format (which Quantum developed) by more than two to one IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Seagate Technology led an industry initiative to create an open industry-standard format for digital tape. The LTO format lets customers interchange tapes and drives from any manufacturer whose products adhere to the standard.

StorageTek is not alone in offering enterprise-class, automated-tape libraries. Both IBM and Advanced Digital Information Corporation (ADIC) compete in that space. But the StorageTek announcement demonstrates that the industry is continuing to raise the bar for scalability and cost per slot.

The new automated-tape libraries also demonstrate the resiliency of tape as the medium of choice for backup and archival functions. Despite predictions of tape's demise, tape continues to outperform disk in backup and archival operations. According to Garter, using disks for backup costs many times more than using tape, and the capacity of optical media hasn't grown fast enough to be a viable contender. Large tape-library systems are currently the key to the storage consolidation that today's enterprises require. And, as StorageTek's L5500 demonstrates, storage vendors are using that window of opportunity well.

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