IBM backs tape with new drives

Who says the future of storage is disk, and disk alone? Not IBM, with its launch of new tape drives and the resurrection of optical drives

Many in IT believe the future of storage is entirely disk and tape "is just for archiving" — but not IBM. On Wednesday, the company launched three new tape drives, including a tape virtualisation engine, and brought back a once-redundant optical disk library by popular demand.

The TS7510 is IBM's first virtualisation engine aimed at the midrange Unix and Intel server markets. It allows customers to consolidate data into fewer, more high-performance/high-capacity tape drives and uses virtualisation to split data between tape and disk.

According to IBM, "the integration of disk and tape in an integrated solution delivers the most cost effective of handling the increasing volumes of data requiring backup".

IBM's system storage tape manager, Peter McNamara, said products like the TS7510 are proof of the continuing role of tape even in areas where the lowering cost of disk storage are making faster disk systems almost as economical.

"Tape is still the cheapest method of storing digital data and will be for some time," McNamara told ZDNet UK. "Other suppliers say that tape is dead, but that is not what our customers say."

And to back that up, on Thursday IBM launched what it claims is the world's fastest tape drive. The TS1120 is more than twice as fast as its predecessor, the company claims. It has a native data rate of 100Mbps and a capacity of 500GB. Also introduced at Storage Expo were the TS1100 tape drive with up to 500GB capacity and the TS3310 modular, mid-range tape library.

McNamara believes that tape can compete even in performance terms. "Depending on how it is configured, you can get very similar (backup and restore) performance from tape that you get from disk," he said.

And if tape is not dead, neither is optical disk. On Wednesday, IBM relaunched the 3996 optical library for iSeries customers. "We phased that product out because we thought there was no demand for that type of optical library anymore," said McNamara. "So many customers asked about it that we brought it back in a new version. That's what it is about — the customers."

The 3990 has a 30GB capacity and is scalable to 5 Terabytes.