VTL Market Grows as Options Multiply

A growing number of companies are trading in their tape backup systems for virtual tape libraries

April 8, 2009

4 Min Read
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The VHS tape has become a dinosaur in the home, and tape backup systems are slowly moving in the same direction in the enterprise. Disk storage has always been faster and more reliable than tape and recently has also become more affordable. Consequently, a growing number of companies are trading in their tape backup systems for virtual tape libraries (VTLs).

Backup storage requirements are becoming more complex. With the maturation of technologies, such as virtualization, multimedia communication, social networking, and mobility, employees are generating, accessing, and storing a growing volume of data. Also, new government regulations, such as U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Sarbanes-Oxley, require companies to track and archive corporate information for several years. With their storage requirements growing, many corporations are re-examining the best way to backup important information.

Traditionally, businesses have used tape for their backups simply because it was inexpensive, costing a fraction of disk options. However, tape can be unreliable (information is sometimes not written to it), and maintaining a tape library can be time consuming and costly (tapes need to be moved from place to place and sometimes get lost). Another problem is tape can be slow. "With storage volumes growing, companies are finding that tape backups take too long," says Fadi Albatal, senior director of marketing at Falconstor.

VTLs, which have been available since the turn of the millennium, offer better reliability, faster backups and restores, and simpler maintenance. Their cost has plummeted during the past few years, so it is not surprising that market research firm IDC found that worldwide VTL system revenues increased from $830 million in 2007 to $930 million in 2008.

But as companies move to VTLs, they must sift through a variety of buying considerations, which can determine the success or failure or their deployments. They have to make sure that they buy compatible equipment. A VTL includes a hardware component and a software element. Companies like Dell, EMC, Falconstor, HP, IBM, NetApp, Overland Storage, Quantum, Sepaton, Spectra Logic, and Sun offer hardware systems. EMC, HP, IBM, and Symantec can provide the needed software.As users move to a VTL, they need to make sure that their new hardware works with their existing backup software. In addition to the additional expense, companies would to have to retrain their staff in order to get a new backup software system up and running.

Price -- especially in today's struggling economy -- presents enterprises with another significant challenge. VTLs are quite expensive, with prices usually starting near $50,000 and often moving past the $1 million mark.

Consequently, VTL sales have largely been limited to large enterprises. Recently, vendors have tried to drive prices down by simplify the underlying components and making VTL installations easier and faster. However, small and medium businesses may skip tape, or virtual tape, backup and instead opt for online disk backup services.

Like other data storage sectors, data de-duplication has been a hot VTL topic. "Initially, VTLs did not support data de-duplication, but just about every vendor now offers it," says Eric Burgener, senior analyst at consulting firm Taneja Group.

The vendors have packaged this feature in various ways, with both bundled and la carte options. Regardless of the packaging, users pay a premium for data de-duplication features -- in some cases, it doubles the price of a base VTL system.In addition, the way a vendor implements data de-duplication can have a significant impact on data reduction and backup performance. In some cases, the de-duplication process takes place on the front end (basically breaking data down inline), which can slow backup response times. Others de-duplicate the data on the backend, but that option can make related tasks, such as replication, more difficult.

Management functions are another area of concern to customers. For many users, data de-duplication is new enough that they still don't have an accurate handle on how it is affecting the amount of data that has to be backed up and how long it will take. Data de-duplication involves both real and virtual numbers, and vendors need to present that information in a clearer fashion to users. In addition, the VTL management functions need to be integrated into other management systems.

Despite those issues, interest in VTLs continues to rise. Tape has been used by large companies for a few decades, so time will pass before it becomes extinct. But it has become increasingly more difficult for companies to justify making additional investments in it.

Here is a small sampling of the vendors offering data de-duplication products and starting prices for some of their systems. It is hard to make direct comparisons since prices usually are based on the amount of storage capacity in each system, as well as key features. Data Domain offers the DD690, which starts at $175,000. EMC offers a family of VLTs, including the EMC Disk Library 1500, 3000, and 4000. Prices start at $106,000. The FalconStor VTL software version starts at $13,000, and the VTL plus disk offering on an appliance starts at $18,000. HP offers three StorageWorks Virtual Library Systems, which start just under $33,000. NetApp has several VTL systems that start around $55,000. The Sepaton S2100-ES2 VTL starts at $85,000. Sun Microsystems offers several VTLs with process starting around $40,000.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).0

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