In praise of tape and robotics

Summary:Tape isn't sexy and it isn't cutting edge. But it does play an important role in larger enterprises who need to keep data for long periods of time, whether for their own business processes, such as insurance and pensions companies, or for compliance reasons, such as pharmaceutical companies.

Tape isn't sexy and it isn't cutting edge. But it does play an important role in larger enterprises who need to keep data for long periods of time, whether for their own business processes, such as insurance and pensions companies, or for compliance reasons, such as pharmaceutical companies. You might also use tape for disaster recovery purposes, assuming a fast recovery time was not very important.

And we're talking about a lot of data. Imagine a tape library that can store up to 16PB of data. That's what Quantum recently launched in Frankfurt at the Europe-wide storage exhibition Storage Network World (which now prefers to be named by the much more anonymous and meaningless SNW, because it's not just about storage networking any more. But I digress).

When I say 'launched', Quantum didn't bring its device with it, nor could it. The widget in question is the new Scalar i6000, a large automated tape library that can swallow up to 5,322 LTO cartridges and shuffle them around 96 tape drives. It connects to the storage network using Fibre Channel and power consumption ranges from 2kVA to 24kVA.

It comes in three types of module: a self-explanatory control module, an expansion module, and a parking module, which is where currently unused tapes are - er - parked. Each module sits in the datacentre occupying a full rack slot, and you can expand the system by adding more modules. It comes with two robots, for redundancy purposes, which move the tapes around the drives and shuffle them off to the parking module when they're finished with. Access time is measured in minutes.

Quantum describes this as an active vault, suggesting that instead of taking tapes off-site, you could just leave them in the big box -- although it's unlikely that you would do so for long-term storage; many companies prefer to ship tapes off-site completely. Leave tapes in the vault though, and the library can scan them periodically to ensure they're healthy, typically every six to twelve months.

The i6000 deduplicates as it stores which helps to reduce your data storage volumes, though I could imagine that it wouldn't do much for your access times when the robot goes off to unearth a block off this tape, another block off another and so on.

According to Quantum's Frank Herold, the system also does thin provisioning which means it automates the adding of new tapes from a blank media pool. "No-one else is doing this today," Herold said.

There aren't many companies still making this kind of product but you'll recognise the names of those that are: IBM, HP, and Oracle Storagetek are among them. The pace of competition and new launches is pretty glacial in this market, understandably so, but there is clearly still life in left in big tape.

Topics: Networking

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Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger. As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites. I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceo... Full Bio

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