Quantum introduces WORM tape

But tapes can be re-used

By Sonia R. Lelii

Quantum Corp. recently announced its DLTice, claiming that it is the first widely adopted midrange tape offering with write-once, read-many (WORM) technology. But there is a key difference in how Quantum has chosen to deliver WORM technology compared to other WORM tape vendors such as IBM, Sony, and StorageTek.

WORM technology originated in the optical market, but interest in tape-based WORM is increasing due largely to the growing archiving challenges many IT managers are facing with government-mandated compliance regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, and SEC Rule 17a-4. The idea behind WORM is that once data is written on the tape cartridge it can never be changed or altered.

Quantum, however, has developed a WORM tape cartridge that can be re-used once the data-retention time limit has expired. With the use of a special degaussing technique, all the magnetic data on the tape cartridge is scrambled without affecting the servo tracks on the tape. That means that administrators can re-use tapes to store new data and continue the common practice of rotating tapes once the data is considered no longer useful, according to Steven Berens, Quantum's senior director of product marketing and strategy.

But analysts say this clever use of technology may cause a debate within the storage industry, especially since companies are under the gun to follow data-retention laws or face heavy financial fines.

"Quantum's contention that WORM cartridges can be re-used if the data has been destroyed may...cause some arguments. It's certainly a waste of tape not to allow this, but is the ability to destroy data in this way in the spirit of the major regulations?", according to a report written by John Abbot, an analyst with the UK-based 451 Group research firm.

Gary Doan, Intradyn's chief executive officer, says there are no official third-party groups validating whether certain storage technologies meet SEC regulations. Intradyn chose Sony's AIT WORM tape technology for its ComplianceVault e-mail archiving appliances. Doan says that he wanted to make sure his technology followed a more black-and-white interpretation of the law. "The letter of the law right now is 'non-erasable, non-rewritable,' " says Doan, referring to SEC Rule 17a-4.

StorageTek, for example, uses a WORM cartridge that has data pre-written on it in the factory to label it as WORM tape. Once the cartridge has been degaussed, the tape is rendered useless. In contrast, Quantum's WORM tapes use "pivoting optical servo tracks" that allow administrators to magnetically erase data on the cartridge without affecting the servo tracks. Quantum's DLTice for Super DLT 600, introduced in July, does provide security to ensure compliance. The media has a special identifier that can't be altered so that the tamper-proof archived tape version meets compliance requirements. In addition, Quantum's DLTSage management tool helps verify data integrity.

Some industry analysts say Quantum's approach is a way for IT managers to get the best of both worlds: a technology that offers security in ensuring data is not altered but also enables them to work within their budgets.

According to Dianne McAdam, a senior analyst with the Data Mobility Group consulting firm, IBM and StorageTek have taken the strict approach where once you use a WORM-based tape cartridge, it can never be used again because the technology doesn't allow data to be over-written. "I think IBM and STK are saying, 'Our way is the more secure way to do it,' " she says, "but Quantum is saying, 'We figured out a different way to do it.' Let's say a cartridge is filled up and it is seven years later and you want to re-use it. You now can mount it and re-use it for non-WORM data. There is a real cost savings there."

This article was originally published on September 01, 2004