Users Linger Over LTO-4

Could LTO-4 be late to the game? Users weary of cost and deployment challenges

June 23, 2007

4 Min Read
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The advent of LTO-4 tape drives was greeted with fanfare by vendors, but users may take some convincing before they deploy the technology. (See LTO Maintains Momentum, LTO Hits 1.5M Drives, and LTO Ultrium to Be Encrypted.)

The 800-Gbyte tape drives offer double the native capacity of existing LTO-3 drives, as well as device-level encryption, something vendors are touting as a way for firms to avoid embarrassing data breaches. (See The Year in Insecurity, Iron Mountain Keeps Truckin', and Houston, We've Got a Storage Problem.)

The last few months have seen a flurry of announcements from Dell, IBM, HP, and others flaunting a capacity hike and native encryption as key benefits to tape storage products. (See Dell Delivers LTO-4, Quantum Debuts LTO-4, and HP, IBM Pass Tests.)

But it may be too much, too late. At least one IT manager told Byte and Switch that past events have forced him to take the issue of encryption into his own hands. "I think LTO-4 is a little bit late -- we had a mandate to encrypt everything a couple of years ago," says Harold Shapiro, technology architect at Warner Bros., which uses all the previous "flavors" of LTO in its data center. (See Warner Bros.) "If they had had a tape drive that did encryption back then, I would have looked at it."

Hardly in a position to sit around waiting for the arrival of LTO-4, the exec deployed an encryption appliance from Decru in late 2005 to lock down data on tapes. (See Decru Unveils SecureView, ISCorp Picks Decru, Decru Selects Mu, and Tempest in a Tape Encryptor.)With a Pbyte of tape now held offsite, Shapiro explains that he is unlikely to overhaul this infrastructure just for LTO-4. "If I ripped out Decru, what would I do with all the tape that is already offsite encrypted with Decru?"

Another user explained that cost was one of the major disincentives to adopt LTO-4. "Not too long ago we went from LTO-1 to LTO-3, and we looked at LTO-4," says Seth Mitchell, infrastructure team manager at Little Canada, Minn.-based Slumberland Furniture. "But it was just too expensive because we have multi-drive libraries."

Slumberland's Mitchell told Byte and Switch that LTO-4 worked out about twice as expensive as LTO-3 when he priced the two technologies a year ago, although he likes the idea of an 800-Gbyte drive. "If we were at the point of buying a drive today, we would probably buy LTO-4."

By way of comparison, pricing for Dell's LTO-4 120 tape drive is $4,000, compared to $2,374 for the vendor's LTO-3 110T.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rich Taylor, senior systems programmer at Clark County, Nevada told Byte and Switch that he is not in any rush to deploy LTO-4. "It's not something that we're looking for right now," says the exec, who uses a mix of IBM 3592 and LTO-2 tape drives in his infrastructure. "It will be on my roadmap when my customers say that they need something encrypted."The exec nonetheless admits that he is intrigued by the idea of native encryption, something that would lessen the security risks posed by a higher capacity tape drive. "The bigger the tape, the bigger the pain," he says, alluding to the problems posed by lost media. "The only reason that I would be interested in LTO-4 is the native encryption."

Like Taylor, Warner Bros.' Shapiro admits that he likes the idea of encrypting at the tape drive level. "It's less complexity, it's less layers of technology," he says, adding that encryption devices can be expensive and present key management challenges. (See A Key to Security, Multivendor Management Locked Up, and Encryption on the Back Burner.)

Long-term, the exec hopes to move away from tape, making LTO-4 an unlikely choice within his data center. "We're in a proof of concept with virtual tape technologies -- my goal is to eliminate tape as much as possible."

Other users contacted by Byte and Switch in the last couple of days admitted that LTO-4 had not even emerged on their radars yet, suggesting that the technology, at this stage, is driven by vendor hype rather than user demand. (See Vendors Dive Into Data Protection.)

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Decru Inc.

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • NeoScale Systems Inc.0

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