Quantum puts faith in tape

Three new stackable libraries and a new autoloader will replace low-end portfolio

I was fairly certain I knew what an upcoming chat with Quantum would focus on. I was expecting to hear more about SDLT (super digital linear tape), the next generation of their high-end tape that, according to previous conversations, the company should release sometime this year.

Well, I was wrong. Ted Oade, director of automation product management at Quantum’s Storage Systems division, had new tape libraries -- not just new tape -- in mind. Perhaps the recent acquisition of Certance, a company that Quantum consumed like a starving gourmet savoring a tasty Maine lobster, played a role in pushing back the launch of the SDLT tape.

I'll admit that I'm speculating here because the DLT road map doesn't help with dates, but I shouldn't be too far off. After all, LTO (linear tape open) 3 was released not long ago; Quantum may already have its hands full incorporating that device into its product line and smoothing any potential friction with the next generation of SDLT.

I don't think we should worry. Even if Quantum postpones shipping the new DLT, other new tapes will keep us storage mavens busy. For example, Sony's SAIT-2 (super advanced intelligent tape) and Exabyte's SMB-friendly VXA-3 are both expected to make appearances before year's end.

I haven't heard from Sony yet (here's a refresher on the previous SAIT model), but judging from what I learned during a conversation with Kelly Beavers, a co-founder of Exabyte and co-developer of the VXA technology, VXA-3 drives will begin shipping soon.

As for Quantum, the company is launching three new libraries and a new autoloader, a combination that will, in time, replace Quantum's existing portfolio for entry-level and mid-tier customers. 

If you are surprised to see Quantum making some significant bets on tape, a technology that, according to some pundits, is passé, consider this eye-opening comment from Oade: "End-users are telling us that they are going to spend more on tape." According to Oade, several research studies are forecasting an increase -- in the 25 to 40 percent range -- in tape spending. That's plenty high enough to have tape vendors drooling.

Quantum's three new libraries -- PX502, 506, and 508 -- come in configurations varying from one drive and 32 slots for the smaller 4U 502 model, to 10 drives and 200 slots of the largest 18U 508 model. All three models can mount SDLT 600, LTO-2, or LTO-3 tapes and have SCSI and FC connectivity.

Quantum is deploying some new technologies (the result of its R&D dollars, Oade points out) with the PX series, which makes it possible to build more compact libraries with larger capacity, all while delivering better performance at a lower price per gigabyte than previous models. A quick eyeball comparison of the older M1500 (which maxed out at two drives and 25 slots), and the PX502 seems to support at least part of that claim. 

What I like the most about Quantum's new libraries is that they can be stacked to form a larger unit that is truly the sum of its parts -- it draws from all the drives, slots, and robotics of its components. This beats the old approach of updating a library with more drives and slots, because you can now do it yourself, without the cost of summoning a field engineer from Quantum. I haven't tried this yet, but according to Oade, the update is a breeze: You remove the top cover of one library, place the new library on top, and align the two units by inserting screws into predrilled holes. Add a new component, a sort of double-entry mail-slot used to exchange cartridges automatically between units, power on, and you're ready to go.

You can stack PX models in any combination, up to a 40U tall tower with 22 drives and 440 cartridges, but the largest configurations may require some heavy lifting -- and I mean real muscles. Interestingly, you can remove a unit from a stack and redeploy it somewhere else, again, without outside help.

According to Oade, a PX502 in the minimum configuration should sell for less than $12,000. but if your budget falls short of that, the new rack-mounted SuperLoader 3  sports 16 slots and one out of a variety of tape drives and can be had for about $4,000. Just don't expect to stack that unit.

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