Tape market WORMs its way to new growth

By Michele Hope

Companies heavily regulated by compliance legislation, such as SEC 17a-4 or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, have an obvious interest in the addition of write-once, read-many (WORM) support by most “super tape” drive manufacturers. Tape-based WORM is a new alternative to the traditional approach of using optical-based WORM for those trying to guard against the potential of either external audits or the prospect of lawsuits.

The difference in cost between tape and optical can be dramatic. According to Bob Abraham, author of the Freeman Reports, a 60GB Ultra Density Optical (UDO) WORM cartridge costs about $1 per gigabyte. On the other hand, a 300GB WORM-capable SDLT II tape cartridge from Quantum costs approximately $0.33 to $0.40 per gigabyte, with street prices running even lower.

Of obvious interest to publicly traded companies, financial services organizations, and government entities, WORM’s ability to preserve data in non-rewritable, non-erasable form is also gaining interest in non-regulated enterprises and in SMBs that need long-term data archival and the preservation of critical corporate records.

“SMBs are in a lot of cases being told by their legal counsel not to throw out any data, but to keep it all,” says Dianne McAdam, senior analyst and partner at the Data Mobility Group consulting firm. “If they ever get sued and have to pull up all those e-mails, they need to make sure they haven’t been tampered with.”

Another growing market for WORM storage comes in the form of smaller or start-up companies seeking funding from venture capital firms or more-traditional lenders. According to Mark Eastman, a marketing manager at Quantum (which has a DLTIce WORM feature for tape), these companies have begun to see lenders add stipulations to their contracts that require them to preserve corporate data in unalterable form.

According to Bob Wilson, vice president of nearline storage at Hewlett-Packard, other industries/departments exploring WORM tape include broadcast media, human resources and recruiting, employee benefits, and education (for secure retention of student records). “The latter two industries are still very dependent on written records and using valuable hard drive space to retain records for lengthy periods of time,” says Wilson. “These companies usually use rewritable tape, which increases the chances that records can be overwritten or erased.”

Since last November, HP has been shipping an 800GB (400GB native) WORM cartridge based on the recently developed LTO Ultrium Generation 3 WORM specifications. The cartridge, which has a list price of $139.99 on HP’s Website, can be used by any WORM-capable LTO-3 tape drive as well as HP’s StorageWorks Ultrium 960 tape drive.

(For a lab review of Hewlett-Packard’s Ultrium 960, see “Testing LTO-3 vs. LTO-2 and SDLT,” Infostor, March 2005, p. 44.)

Similar to other LTO-3 WORM implementations, the HP tape drive and cartridge provide four security locks that identify the cartridge as WORM. These include special formatting of the cartridge, and WORM identification coding embedded in three areas: within any supported backup application, in the tape drive’s firmware, and in the data cartridge memory (CM).

This coding works in tandem to identify a cartridge as either WORM or rewritable (RW). “These four features work together to identify the type of data cartridge, and if it is WORM to prevent the erasure of previously written data by advancing the data cartridge to the last file marker on the tape,” says HP’s Wilson. Two-tone yellow/gray markings on the WORM cartridge distinguish it from its all-gold RW counterpart.

Other LTO-3 vendors quick to market with WORM-enabled cartridges include Hitachi Maxell Ltd., with its Maxell LTO Ultrium 3 cartridges (released in November 2004), and Tandberg Data, with its Ultrium 3 WORM cartridges (released this month).

In February, Overland Storage announced support for LTO-3 WORM tape in its NEO Series tape libraries, including the NEO 2000, 4000, and 8000.

Quantum, which manufactures its own SDLT tape line, took a different approach for WORM implementation compared to LTO-3 and SAIT tape manufacturers’. Quantum’s DLTIce WORM functionality does not require users to purchase separate WORM cartridges. Instead, WORM functionality is available with Quantum’s standard SDLT 600 tape drives and standard SDLT II tape media.

Using a combination of software and firmware, DLTIce allows standard cartridges to be initialized, or “iced,” by the tape drive as WORM cartridges using commands from supported backup software, content management software, or Quantum’s own DLTSage management software. During initialization, WORM indicator codes are written to three subsequently write-protected areas found at the start of the tape and before the end of data (EOD) marker. This marker shows where the cartridge can begin recording user data.

A unique DLTIce signature key is also created containing the serial number of the initializing drive and a unique serial number associated with the WORM cartridge. Red WORM/DLTIce labels provided with each SDLT Tape II cartridge are the only visible sign that the data cartridge is WORM-enabled. Firmware in the SDLT 600 drive is designed to check each cartridge for the three unique WORM identifiers and WORM initialization key when the cartridge is first placed in the drive.

Similar to the operation of LTO-3 WORM drives, if the drive recognizes the cartridge as WORM it is programmed to only append data to the cartridge based on the location of the last data marker. It cannot overwrite existing data. Non-SDLT 600 drives will not recognize a WORM-initialized cartridge and will eject it.

The physical cartridge is the same as its read-write counterpart and is offered at the same price (versus a 10% to 20% price premium for some LTO WORM cartridges). Quantum’s key selling points are the fact that the WORM functionality does not cost extra and does not require maintenance of separate media pools. It also gives users the option to re-use the cartridge once all retention periods for data stored on the cartridge have passed-a potentially attractive option for data with short retention periods.

“Most other technologies like LTO, StorageTek [9840/9842 cartridges], and IBM [3592] use a magnetic-servo pattern that renders those cartridges unusable when you degauss the cartridge and overwrite all the data,” explains Quantum’s Eastman.

“SDLT uses an optical-servo pattern at the backside of the cartridge. This allows us to degauss the actual cartridge, erasing all of the data on the physical media, but still allowing the cartridge to be re-used,” he adds.

In the end, the decision to go with SDLT or LTO WORM tape cartridges may be one of user preference, according to Overland’s Grover, whose company offers the choice of both LTO-3 and SDLT600 tape drives in its NEO libraries.

“SDLT does not require separate WORM cartridges [but] LTO does,” says Grover. “Some people view being able to use the same cartridge for standard backup and WORM archiving functions as a cost savings, not requiring users to maintain separate media pools. Others find that requiring a separate WORM cartridge ensures that users will not get their backup [non-WORM] and their archive [WORM] tapes mixed up.”

Grover believes it’s probably more likely users will go with LTO-3 WORM, given the dominance of LTO over SDLT in the midrange tape market.

Sony, which was early to market in 2001 with its WORM-enabled AIT tape product line, announced its higher-capacity 500GB (native) SAIT-1 WORM cartridges and WORM-capable drives last March. However, Sony remains a distant third in overall super tape market share behind LTO and SDLT.

Whichever WORM format a customer chooses, it’s bound to be good for the tape industry. According to Freeman Reports’ Abraham, the twin trends of archival and compliance are one of the few areas where the otherwise flat or declining tape market will continue to experience significant growth. “There’s little to no growth in the ordinary areas of tape. But, growth in the compliance and archiving fields is enormous,” says Abraham.

In the end, the selection of WORM storage for non-regulated industries may come down to peace of mind. “WORM functionality provides at least a modicum of comfort to the business in that once a company’s records are stored on such a surface of media-absent the actual destruction of the media-those records cannot be modified or deleted,” says Randolph Kahn, founder of Chicago-based Kahn Consulting and author of several books on information management and compliance, including E-mail Rules, Information Nation, and Information Nation Warrior.

Michele Hope is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at mhope@thestoragewriter.com.

Representative WORM tape vendors (drives/libraries)

IBM: 3592 tape drives and libraries

StorageTek: 9840 and 9940 tape drives and libraries (ADIC also sells libraries with these drives.)

Sony: AIT-3 and AIT-4 tape drives and libraries (AIT-3 and AIT-4 drives are also available from library vendors such as Breece Hill, Grau, Qualstar, and Spectra Logic.)

Sony: SAIT drives/libraries/autoloaders (SAIT drives are also available from library/autoloader vendors such as Breece Hill, Qualstar, and Spectra Logic.)

Quantum: SDLT 600 tape drives/libraries/autoloaders (SDLT 600 drives are also available from library/autoloader vendors such as ADIC, Breece Hill, Overland Storage, Qualstar, Spectra Logic, and StorageTek.)

Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Quantum: Shipping or soon to ship LTO-3 drives/libraries with WORM capability (Overland Storage has also announced LTO-3-based libraries with WORM functionality.)

WORM functionality is currently not available on the following tape formats: SLR, Travan, DDS, 19mm, Mammoth, VXA, DLT8000, and VDLT.

Source: Freeman Reports

This article was originally published on April 01, 2005