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Fujitsu Siemens challenges EMC and NetApp on virtual tape

When is tape virtualisation true tape virtualisation?

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Fujitsu Siemens Computers is taking its CentricStor virtual tape appliance to midsize users, introducing two entry-level models with a mere 2.7TB of caching disk each and the ability to connect to one tape library and up to four physical tape drives.

The CentricStor VTA 500 and 1500 appliances manage the process of disk-to-disk-to-tape backup. They look like a tape drive or library to the servers (but several times faster), store the backup volumes on disk cache, and then stage them to real tape in the background.

Because they virtualise the physical tape drives they are useful for backup consolidation, said FSC product marketing director Marcus Schneider. They can look like a Magstar drive to the mainframe, Storagetek to Unix and DLT to Windows, say, while really storing everything on a single LTO library.

The VTA includes tape cloning as standard - it can create two identical copies of the same tape at the same time to avoid relying on a single tape copy for long-term backup. It also automatically checks tape content and condition, consolidating part-full cartridges and replacing those that show signs of going bad.

Schneider said that VTA is "true tape virtualisation". It competes with virtual tape libraries (VTLs) from the likes of NetApp and EMC, but he said that those focus on replacing tape with disk. For example, he said EMC's Clariion VTL can be used with tape, but only by hanging a real tape library off the same backup server and operating it in parallel. That limits its ability to consolidate your backup operations, he added.

"This is not low end," he said, pointing out that even the smallest model - the CentricStor VTA 500 - starts at £86,207. "This is for mid-market companies, with data centres and perhaps 1000 employees, not for people with one tape drive."

He claimed that the big advantage of CentricStor is that it handles everything itself, so there is much less need for manual intervention by storage admins: "People don't have to deal with physical tape any more - that saves a huge amount of money."

Both the new appliances are expandable, the VTA 500 to 22TB of disk and the more powerful VTA 1500 to 173TB. They can connect to servers via ESCON, FICON or Fibre Channel, and appear on the SAN as between 32 and 128 virtual tape drives. ®

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