NetApp Readies Virtual Tape

Finishes system built on software acquired from Alacritus

February 3, 2006

4 Min Read
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Network Appliance will roll out a virtual tape library (VTL) product next week based on technology it acquired by buying startup Alacritus 10 months ago. (See NetApp Annexes Alacritus.)

Sources say NetApp will introduce its NearStore VTL Tuesday as part of a webcast product launch including its Decru encryption appliances and plans for tighter integration with Symantec disk-backup software.

NetApp has been working on its VTL launch since gobbling up Alacritus for $11 million in April. Nearly all of the major storage vendors offer virtual tape capabilities through software partnerships, and a host of traditional tape library vendors and startups also sell VTLs.

VTLs are growing in popularity as users seek alternatives to tape and take advantage of low-cast SATA drives. VTLs use the same backup software as tape devices, but send data to disk instead. This speeds up the backup while allowing administrators to follow the same process as for their tape backup.

EMC launched its Clariion Disk Library using FalconStor software in April 2004. Hewlett-Packard struck an OEM deal with Sepaton last May for a VTL product; and IBM -- also in partnership with FalconStor -- rolled out VTL last October. (See EMC and HP Spin Disk, HP Upgrade Features OEM Crowd, and IBM, MS in Virtualization Push.)Tape library vendors ADIC and Quantum as well as startups Copan Systems, Data Domain, Diligent Technologies, and Maxxan Systems sell VTL products.

NetApp has two models, a single-controller NearStore VTL600 and dual-controller VTL1200. The VTL600 holds up to 4.5 Tbytes and 256 virtual libraries, 1,500 virtual drives, and 10,000 virtual cartridges with up to 10 Fibre Channel ports and 5 iSCSI ports. The VTL1200 doubles all of those specs. Pricing for the VTL600 starts at $114,000. The libraries support disk storage from EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM.

The software is the major difference among the big vendors VTLs. Physically, NetApp’s VTL is similar to systems from EMC and IBM. It emulates tape libraries from ADIC, HP, IBM, Quantum, and Sun. IBM's gear starts at $175,000 and EMC's price starts at $110,000.

While its largest storage rivals partnered for VTL products, NetApp bought Alacritus so it could own its VTL technology. Alacritus was among the first VTL vendors, shipping its Securitus VTL virtual tape software in 2001. It lost ground after other startups and then EMC got in the game. There was speculation at the time that Alacritus would not have survived on its own, despite claiming around 100 customers for Securitus and having developed continuous data protection (CDP) technology.

NetApp did beat one large storage vendor into VTL for open systems. StorageTek has offered mainframe VTL since 1998 and promised open VTL in October 2004, but did not deliver by the time it became part of Sun last September and the product remains AWOL under Sun. (See StorageTek Users Voice Support Fears and StorageTek Flexes Disk.)How far behind is NetApp in VTL? A bit, but not hopelessly so, state Rob Stevenson, managing director of market research firm TheInfoPro (TIP). TIP surveys 150 different Fortune 1000 companies on storage buying patterns every six months, and its most recent survey last fall ranked VTL first among technologies companies were using or planning to adopt.

But Stevenson points out that early interviews for the next survey show VTL interest is waning: “So far, I see a little bit of a pull back in terms of deployment. People have concerns that it’s not as scalable as they thought it would be. Some said it was too complex to install. They say they’ll wait for it to mature.”

Stevenson says VTL’s best chance of catching on will be for vaulting to remote sites. “The way they’re doing it now with tape vaulting is painful. There’s still a lot of opportunity for NetApp.”

NetApp also added iSCSI support for Decru DataFort E-Series encryption appliances, allowing customers to encrypt NAS and IP SAN data from the same DataFort box. NetApp acquired Decru for $272 million last June. (See NetApp Buys Decru.) The Decru devices will also encrypt data from the NearStore VTLs.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and SwitchOrganizations mentioned in this article:

  • Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Data Domain Inc. (Nasdaq: DDUP)

  • Diligent Technologies Corp.

  • FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • MaXXan Systems Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Quantum Corp. (NYSE: QTM)

  • Sepaton Inc.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • TheInfoPro Inc. (TIP)

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