Certance makes its mark in tape storage

CL800 tape drive represents the latest blow in the LTO-3 prizefight

Am I confused or did we actually hear about the new LTO-3 (Linear Tape-Open Ultrium format generation 3) tape format only a few weeks ago? Well, there is more on that topic, because with one swift move Certance took the ball away from its competitors by releasing the CL 800, the first tape drive based on LTO-3 technology.

Sounds like Greek to you? OK, here's some background info. Of course you remember Certance, the company born a few years ago from Seagate Removable Storage Solutions. You may also remember that LTO is a technology that sets the specs for tape devices and media suitable for midsize and large datacenters. LTO was originally created and is being further developed by Certance, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. (If you didn't remember Certance or LTO, you should be reading this column more often).

With that in mind, remember that LTO tapes compete with Quantum domineering DLT (digital linear tape) and Super DLT products. In fact, for the past few years nothing has been more exciting in this area than following the fight for market share between those two technologies while they repeatedly surpass each other in performance and capacity.

As I mentioned, the latest punch in that fight came last month from LTO as it announced the LTO-3, doubling capacity and performance over the previous version with an expected native capacity of 400GB per cartridge and transfer rates ranging from 80MBps to 160Mbps.

It's important to note that an LTO-3 drive can still read and write LTO-2 cartridges, which should grant existing customers a smooth update to the new tapes. The backward compatibility of LTO-3 extends also to LTO-1 cartridges, although the new tapes can read -- but not write -- those media.

The importance of Certance's CL 800 should be clear now: it offers internal, external, and rack-mount versions of this single drive unit, all with an Ultra 160 SCSI interface (a Fibre Channel version should be available later this year). You probably also noticed that the 800 in the model number indicates the estimated reel capacity, assuming a 2:1 compression ratio.

The purchase price for a CL 800 should hover around $6,000, which is competitive with comparable Quantum units but could be hard to swallow for customers who, although tempted by the LTO technology, have more moderate capacity and performance requirements.

In a concurrent announcement, Certance is offering those customers a more affordable entry point to LTO technology with the CL 400H. This is another single tape drive, but based on LTO-2 and, as the H indicates, with a half-sized form factor.

At a price of about $2,100 or less for internal units, the CL 400H should find a place in most budgets, and its full compatibility with LTO-1 cartridges makes for an easy update.

However, there is more to like in these Certance units than just price, because the company has made custom enhancements to the basic LTO technology, making its products more reliable and more valuable. 

For example, Smart Verify makes the verify run of backup applications redundant by immediately checking each write to tape for correctness. Media Shield offers an obsessively careful handling of the delicate reel inside the cartridge that, according to Certance, doubles its expected life. And if your backup servers are not the fastest in the bunch, how would you like to have a feature that ensures tape streaming by automatically adjusting the transfer rate to the most effective value from a range of 13?

Last but not least, there’s Dynamic Powerdown, a properly sized capacitor built in the tape drive to ensure a controlled shutdown and avoid jamming the tape even if someone suddenly pulls the plug.

Really, the only thing I found missing from these new LTO announcements is WORM capability, but we shouldn't blame Certance for that because expanding LTO requires the combined effort of its three promoting vendors.

However, the last time I spoke to them, the nice LTO people promised that support for WORM was imminent -- this must be true, because Certance assures me that it will take only an easy field update to implement WORM on existing tapes such as the CL 800. Looks like the next round of this fight is ready to begin.


Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.