Enterprises see increased adoption of VTLs

By Kevin Komiega

The proliferation of virtual tape libraries (VTLs) in the largest of enterprise data centers continues unabated. In fact, the technology is about to become the backup and recovery solution of choice in most large IT shops.

The latest end-user survey data from TheInfoPro (TIP), an independent research firm, reveals that close to half of all Fortune 1000 companies are using VTLs, with an additional 18% of the respondents planning to adopt VTL technology within the next nine months.

"Enterprises want to move to a tape-less environment. Many of them do not anticipate going completely tape-less, but they want to use VTLs to minimize the growth of tape and the expense of tape management," says Robert Stevenson, TIP's managing director of storage research.

According to the TIP survey, 44% of the Fortune 1000 companies surveyed have deployed VTLs (see Figure 1), and those who have not may be delaying implementations due to belt-tightening, according to Stevenson.

"Many companies are experiencing staffing and budgetary constraints and are pushing implementations off until 2010," he says. "But about 47% of those with VTLs are planning to expand their implementations this year."

Stevenson says the enterprise VTL market is shifting slightly. A number of players are moving up market and entering what used to be an "EMC, IBM and Sun game," including vendors such as Data Domain, FalconStor Software, NetApp and others, according to Stevenson.

The midrange market for VTLs is a different animal. Medium-sized businesses are typically late adopters of new technologies and view virtual tape systems in a different light than Fortune 1000 organizations.

"Storage is not typically strategic to their businesses," says Stevenson. "Medium-size companies look at VTLs as a way to consolidate and standardize multiple tape format types, while VTLs are beginning to take on the requirements of mission-critical equipment in large enterprises."

Stevenson notes that approximately 18% of medium-size companies are using VTLs, while the rest continue to use standard tape backup solutions (see Figure 2).

The list of VTL and VTL-related hardware and software vendors continues to grow. Vendors include Arkeia Software, BakBone Software, Bus-Tech, CA, Copan Systems, DataDirect Networks, Data Domain, Datalink, EMC, FalconStor, Gresham Enterprise Storage, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, NetApp, Overland Storage, Quantum, Sepaton, Spectra Logic, Sun, Symantec and newcomer Tandberg Data.

Recent VTL announcements

Disk-based backup vendor Sepaton recently began offering a new remote replication feature for its family of S2100 VTLs. The new DeltaRemote software replaces Sepaton's previous replication technology, Site2.

DeltaRemote replicates large volumes of data over distances, with the added bonus of DeltaStor data de-duplication software to reduce the bandwidth requirements of replication by as much as 97%, according to Steve Bagby, Sepaton's senior director of product planning and engineering.

"We have had replication for our VTL products before, but DeltaRemote uses de-dupe to reduce bandwidth utilization," says Bagby. "Now we send new and unique data from each tape cartridge rather than shipping a whole tape cartridge over the wire, which results in bandwidth reductions."

DeltaRemote software works with DeltaStor de-duplication software to identify and replicate only unique data and pointers to previously stored duplicate data. According to Bagby, the process cuts the amount of transmitted data by as much as 40:1.

DeltaRemote is integrated with Sepaton's management console and runs on existing nodes, eliminating the need for separate, dedicated appliances. As a result, a VTL can back up, de-duplicate, and replicate as much as 25TB of data per node per day, according to Bagby.

Restore times have also been improved through the use of "forward referencing," a de-duplication method that maintains the most recent backup in a format ready for restores without reassembly. Data can be restored at up to 600MBps per node.

DeltaRemote software is priced at $11,000 per node. Sepaton will continue to support Site2 customers, but Bagby says DeltaRemote will be the company's replication product going forward.

FalconStor Software has been busy on all fronts with a rash of recent announcements, including performance enhancements to its VTLs, partnerships with software vendors, and support for VMware's vSphere operating system.

The company also recently announced an option for its VTL product that promises to accelerate backups and eliminate the backup window.

"VTLs solve a lot of the complexity, management, reliability and performance issues associated with tape-based backup at the backup server level, but there are still a lot of challenges on the front end between the backup server and the host server," says Fadi Albatal, FalconStor’s director of marketing.

The Backup Accelerator option alleviates the problems caused by traditional backup software agents running on host systems, replacing those agents with FalconStor's Backup Accelerator agents and offloading backup processing from the hosts and allowing backups to run at any time (which eliminates the backup window). The solution relies on SAN-based backups, as opposed to the traditional 1Gbps LAN-based backup configuration, and FalconStor claims a backup performance increase of 4x to 8x (assuming a 4Gbps or 8Gbps Fibre Channel SAN).

"We eliminate the backup agent software on the host that's imposing performance limitations and replace those agents with our own," Albatl explains, "but you still use the same backup software."

The Backup Accelerator software and appliance sit between the SAN (Fibre Channel or iSCSI) and the FalconStor VTL, and share the same storage pool with the VTL (see Figure 3). The Backup Accelerator agents maintain a complete, current copy of the backup data in the Backup Accelerator repository.

In addition to the Backup Accelerator agents (which run on Windows or Linux hosts and split writes to the storage pool), server software and VTL (with data de-duplication), the overall solution includes HyperTrac backup agents that run on the backup server and work with the existing backup software to offload backup processes from the production servers. The solution is based on FalconStor's IPStor software, which virtualizes resources for the VTL.

FalconStor also introduced a Hosted Backup Option for its VTLs, which can further accelerate backup performance by loading the backup software on the VTL node. The VTL connects to the backup server via a PCIe bus, eliminating the SAN hop and separate backup server from the configuration.

A $20,000 software license for the Backup Accelerator option includes 16 host agent licenses for Windows or Linux and one HyperTrac license.

FalconStor's OEMs are evaluating the Backup Accelerator, although none of them have yet announced support. FalconStor's VTL OEMs include EMC, IBM and Sun, as well as Acer, Copan, DataDirect Networks, DSI, H3C, Pillar Data and others.

On the virtualization front, FalconStor announced that its complete product line will support VMware's vSphere operating system. The company’s first product to receive VMware certification is the NSS-S12 (Network Storage Server). The NSS system integrates storage virtualization and provisioning across multiple disk arrays and connection protocols to create a scalable iSCSI or Fibre Channel SAN.

FalconStor also entered into a pair of joint technology, sales and marketing partnerships to accelerate adoption of its VTL product and de-duplication. For example, the company joined forces with backup and disaster recovery software vendor Arkeia to test and validate FalconStor's VTL with Arkeia's Network Backup software.

In the same vein, FalconStor announced a partnership with Idera Software, a provider of management and administration solutions for Windows, aimed at accelerating backup and restore operations for de-duplicated SharePoint sites and site collections. The partnership involves Idera's SharePoint backup software and FalconStor's File-interface Deduplication System (FDS).

Tape specialist Tandberg Data entered the VTL fray last month with the introduction of its DPS1000 Series VTLs.

Tandberg Data ASA and its sister company, Tandberg Storage ASA, both filed for bankruptcy in April after an unsuccessful bid to repay a lapsed loan from Cyrus Capital. However, the company maintains that it is "business as usual" as it undergoes restructuring and continues to support customers and roll out new products.

"We're a tape company at heart, which allowed us to build a disk-based appliance that takes away the pain and frustration associated with tape management," says McClain Buggle, a product manager at Tandberg.

Tandberg's VTLs are capable of supporting virtual library connections to as many as 100 host systems, including remote servers and virtual machines, and can be used with the company's tape libraries for consolidated off-site backup, archiving and disaster recovery.

According to Buggle, the DPS1000 is designed to protect data in virtualized environments. The system scales with a one-to-one mapping of a virtual machine to its own VTL connection. If a virtual machine is no longer online, its library connection is persistently maintained. The DPS1000 Series is configurable with one to eight drives within a single virtual library. The virtual shelf allows tapes to be electronically removed from the active library and stored for later retrieval or export. Tapes can be moved to other libraries electronically, providing data portability without physically moving tapes.

The DPS1000 creates a secure virtual library connection for each host system in an effort to isolate data for regulatory compliance purposes. Each client or server has its own dedicated library for backups, and the DPS1000 only allows the system that backed up the data to restore the data.

The VTL also includes Dynamic Data Reduction technology to expand the effective capacity available on disk, with compression ratios of up to 10:1. Dynamic Data Reduction functions in-line with data transfer to disk, and automatically detects data compressibility, shutting off reduction for non-compressible data sets.

In terms of scale, the DPS1000 Series can grow to a maximum capacity of 45TB using DPS Expansion Modules.

The DPS1000 Series VTL is available through Tandberg Data's channel of distributors and resellers. Pricing for a 1U-high, 3TB DPS1100 is $9 995, while a 2U, 6TB DPS1200 starts at $17,995. The systems scale via Expansion Modules of 4.5TB ($9,500) and 9TB ($12,600).

This article was originally published on June 01, 2009