HP Heightens Tape IQ

Rolls out controller-based tape library architecture, years after others pioneered the concept

August 8, 2003

3 Min Read
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Most of the buzz around information lifecycle management has centered around adding more intelligence to disk, but Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) is taking a different route: The company announced a new tape controller architecture today that it claims will help smarten up SAN-attached tape libraries (see HP Offers Tape for SANs).

HP claims its StorageWorks Extended Tape Library Architecture can significantly increase the IQ of tape backup systems, providing better scaleability, security, and reliability. It's a big improvement over your typical, dimwitted tape setup, HP says. Unlike disk drives, which are generally attached to the network through intelligent controllers, tape has ordinarily linked directly into the SAN fabric.

"This provides a level of intelligence in the library itself," says Rick Luttrall, the director of near-line product marketing for HPs Network Storage Division. "You very rarely see a disk that’s directly attached to the fabric. There’s always a controller. This is a similar concept but for tape."

But while HP is trying to tout the uniqueness of its approach -- almost acting as if it invented the concept -- other vendors have long offered controller-attached tape drives and libraries, including Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC) and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK).

"We like HP’s announcement," says Dave Uvelli, ADIC’s program manager for the Scaler I2000. "We think that using a controller is good. We’ve been doing it for two years now. We’re on our second generation."Like competing offerings, HP's tape controllers allow interfaces to be changed independently of the tape drive, thus allowing companies to upgrade their SANs without having to swap out their existing tape libraries and drives, the company says. The controllers are available for HP's ESL 9322 and 9595 tape libraries.

Gartner analyst Fara Yale says the new offering fits into HP's overall ILM strategy. "Part of ILM is putting the right data on the right media at the right time using the right methodology... This is part of that," she says.

The controller-based architecture can, according to HP, be deployed incrementally, so companies can simply add on new features as the need arises, or as HP makes them available.

The only part of the architecture that is available today is the embedded, integrated interface controllers, which sit between the tape drives and the SAN. The controllers, which have been shipping for about four weeks, allow administrators to manage all of the drives in a library from a single, Web-based interface, and simplify shared access in the network, Luttrall says. In addition, he says, the controllers provide reporting and monitoring capabilities like tracking and detecting errors affecting SAN backup. They can also restore operations and identify configuration issues and conflicts in the SAN.

The next portion of the architecture set to become available is the Interface Manager, which HP expects to start shipping in September. The Interface Manager is a separate controller card with embedded software that plugs into the tape library along with the Interface Controller cards. It can intelligently configure the system based on the analysis it generates through its onboard flash memory, which maintains the history and health of the tape library and the storage network. It can also detect errors and easily adapt to changes, HP claims.Also expected to be available in September is HP’s new Security Manager software, which can be loaded on the controller, and which provides authentication and access control to the different drives. It also protects the tape drives during backups by filtering out resets, Luttrall says.

Luttrall claims that approximately 40 to 50 customers are already using the new interface controllers.

The list price for HP’s ESL 9322 Extended Tape Library, including card cage, Interface Manager card, cables, install guide, and Command View ESL software, is $99,900. The 9322 supports up to 322 cartridges and up to eight tape drives; neither Ultrium or SuperDLT (SDLT) tape drives nor e2400-160 Fibre Channel interface controllers are included in that price. The same options for the higher-end ESL 9595, which supports up to 595 cartridges and up to 16 drives, carries a $115,200 price tag (cup-holder is extra).

— Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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