A lot of life in the old tape yet

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The loss of business information can be disastrous for a company’s health and success, so it is essential that every business has a backup or a disaster recovery (DR) plan.

But with changing technologies entering the backup and DR arena all the time, is there still room for the traditional tape?

At the beginning of the year analyst Forrester Research published The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Open Systems Virtual Tape Libraries, Q1 2008 report, which highlighted how it is often assumed that enterprises are moving more of their backups to disk because they are simply frustrated with tape.

However, the report said: “The reality is that enterprises are not frustrated with tape. Many of its inherent challenges have been addressed through more intelligent automated tape library systems.

“They cannot back up all the critical corporate data they need to with tape alone because there is more data to back up than ever before, there is less planned downtime during which to complete backups and application owners want more frequent backups and faster restores.”

Unavailable and unreliable

Mike Richards, managing director at online data backup and managed service provider Smartways, said: “In a society where you cannot even buy cassette tapes any more ­ as they are unreliable and known for getting chewed up in machines ­ why are businesses still using tapes to back up their data?

“Automated online backup means there is no need to physically move the data offsite, which the business is charged to have removed and to bring back.”

Mark Saville, channel developments director at Smartways, said: “Smartways’ service provides a repeated revenue stream for its partners which can continually buy more storage when needed.

“Partners buy aggregated storage from us, which they can then distribute to each customer. This means they do not have to keep coming to us for more space all the time and they can close deals faster.”

Saville also said that the bigger the capacity of storage a partner orders, the bigger discount they get.

Smartways partners have access to its TouchPoint Advanced Partner Portal (APP), a web-based management system. This system provides partners with control over their customers’ backups and data quotas.

The recently released second version of the system generates alerts through email. It gives notification of daily quota use, completion and status of backups to nominated representatives at both the partner and customer locations.

However, Dave Haslam, technical solutions director at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), believes the tape market is still strong.

“There is an attachment with tape, which is why it will never die,” he said.

Haslam said Hitachi Maxell, a subsidiary of HDS, has bucked the trend by announcing an increase in its annual tape sales.

Good investment “It is selling more tapes than it has in a while and therefore is investing in developments around tape,” Haslam explained.

“Switching to online backup means that the data does not have to be physically moved. However, it disregards the telecommunication charge it costs companies to virtually transport the data. As with anything in IT, it is a trade-off.”

Haslam added: “Tape still has its place even though other technologies are becoming more prevalent.”

Paul Hickingbotham, solutions manager at storage distributor Hammer, agreed: “The role of tape is changing and companies are increasingly looking to take advantage of the newer disk-based technologies such as Virtual Tape Libraries (VTL) and de-duplication.

“Tape being dead has to be one of the most commonly heard untruths in the market. There are always claims that new technologies will eliminate tape from the IT market and frankly this is not the case.”

Data protection vendor Sepaton recently announced sales of $1m (£533,000) through VAR QAssociates since partnering with the firm in July.

QAssociates resells Sepaton’s S2100 ES2 virtual tape library (VTL), DeltaStor data de-duplication software and other enterprise products.

Jon Mills, managing director EMEA at Sepaton, said: “Tapes will not go away because there is always the need for retention. But 2008 is the year for de-duplication.

“All the industry’s gorillas are investing in this technology. EMC partnered with Quantum, IBM acquired Diligent Technologies and Sepaton has an OEM agreement with HP.”

Haslam said that despite the level of marketing against tape, it still refuses to leave the market.

“Tape will still be in the market in five years’ time; it is like a belt and braces for the industry,” he said.
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