Tape Solves Sticky Storage Issues

Network-attached storage innovations aren't limited to devices such as Network Storage Solutions Inc.'s ProStor system reviewed in this issue. Tape-based storage is about to get a little bit sexier.

Network-attached storage innovations arent limited to devices such as Network Storage Solutions Inc.s ProStor system reviewed in this issue. Tape-based storage is about to get a little bit sexier.

A new generation of tape appliances will hit the market later this year, promising scalable, centralized design and flexible support for a multitude of industry-standard protocols.

A year and a half ago, ATL Products Inc. (a Quantum Corp. company) introduced the LANVault 200, the first network-attached tape library system. The LANVault provides an easily deployed turnkey system that includes a digital linear tape library connected by SCSI to a Windows NT-based thin server with backup software installed (Veritas Software Corp.s Backup Exec or Computer Associates International Inc.s ARCServe IT)—all in a package that connects directly to an IP network.

eWeek Labs found the LANVault a bit inflexible—its available with only a one-size library. In addition, the thin server provides connectivity only to Ethernet-based networks. ATL officials said the thin server was put in to speed time to market.

In the very near term, ATL is expected to announce a LANVault product that utilizes the companys M1500 tape library, which provides a modular, more scalable design. Industry watchers should expect other architectural changes in the near future that provide greater flexibility across network protocols.

Although ATL is the only vendor with a network-attached tape system on the market, that is about to change. In February, Spectra Logic Corp. threw its hat into the ring, announcing the TAOS (Tape Appliance Operating System) architecture for Ethernet and IP.

TAOS supports Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel connectivity as well as iSCSI, Internet Tape Protocol and Network Data Management Protocol. It should work with most available backup software, according to Spectra Logic officials, including current offerings from Veritas and Legato Systems Inc. and Windows NT-native software.

Instead of using a remote thin-server appliance, TAOS uses a virtual adapter on the server with the backup software. The virtual adapter emulates a local SCSI connection, translates the payload into the preconfigured protocol and sends the packets through the TCP/IP stack. Traffic is received by a controller attached to the remote library, which reassembles the information into SCSI commands. We expect to see Spectra Logic products based on this design available within the next two months.

From the specifications, it looks like TAOS will provide more flexibility than ATLs offering. With the addition of controllers and virtual adapters, TAOS will work with a large array of legacy products, and it has the backing of a large consortium of industry heavyweights.

Either way, administrators will soon have powerful options for backing up and archiving critical data.