A new tape drive from Exabyte promises to ease the growing pains of the small company that one day realizes it has more data to back up than can fit on a single tape. The VXA-172, which Exabyte began shipping at the end of February, has the unique feature of being expandable. You can purchase a starter unit capped at 172GB (compressed), and later, when your mountain of data outstrips that capacity, you can buy a license to expand the capacity to 320GB. No need to buy new tape drives or jump to a new tape format.
Unleashing the additional capacity is a no-brainer. I started VXA Tool (a Windows application) on my server, typed the upgrade key received from Exabyte, and after rescanning for hardware changes I saw the VXA-320 replace the VXA-172 in Device Manager.
Before the upgrade, I ran various backups on X6 and X10 cartridges, formats that have a maximum compressed capacity of 80GB and 172GB, respectively. I was not able to use the larger X23 cartridge, however; the tape simply refused to load it. After the upgrade, in addition to the smaller cartridges, I was able to use the X23 and to take advantage of its 320GB capacity.
Upgrading a VXA-172 is not free, but the aggregate cost of the base drive plus the upgrade is about what you would pay for a VXA-320. Interestingly, the VXA-172 has the same transfer rate as a native VXA-320, which is an additional bonus.
If your backups span multiple cartridges, note that Exabyte is making available a similar upgrade option for its 1U PacketLoader, an autoloader that mounts a single VXA-172 drive and has room for 10 cartridges.
If the size of your backups hangs in that twilight zone where a DAT-72 is too small and an LTO is overkill, the Exabyte VXA-172 could be your best bet.
Exabyte VXA-172 Packet Tape Drive
Cost: Single drive, $699; update, $349; PacketLoader, $1699; update, $599
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