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Key software issues to consider when purchasing a tape library.

Tape libraries from various manufacturers may look alike and even act alike in terms of their core functionality, but look under the hood and you'll find real differentiation in the embedded software (aka firmware), that drives this hardware. As a result, purchase decisions should be based not just on hardware feeds and speeds, but also on software functionality that enhances the value of the underlying platform. Why? Because only software features, not hardware capabilities, empower libraries to minimize operational and management complexities and costs associated with data storage.

It is library software, for example, that enables the flexible configurations that let organizations effectively leverage and manage library investments across distributed offices or internal departments. It is library software that enables the partitioning of a single library that lets you consolidate management of multiple libraries. It is library software that enables remote management of any library from any Web-enabled PC. And it is library software that ensures optimized performance of the library itself and of the interface between the library and the SAN or storage management software.

In other words, to ensure that tape library investments meet performance, price and total cost-of-ownership objectives, don't gamble on tape libraries that lack the right software that leverages your hardware investment. Instead, make secure bets on libraries offering the applications that let you meet today's immediate needs and tomorrows as well.

To be sure your library will not quickly outlive its usefulness, consider the importance of the following "lucky seven" software-based capabilities that make these investments cost-effective and adaptive to evolving storage requirements. Select a tape library that offers all of these features and the investment will serve you well; fail to do so and there's a high probability it won't.

The Lucky Seven

1) -- Software-based partitioning, also called virtualization, adds real value to a library investment because it enables a single device to be leveraged across a number of different storage and technology needs. When coupled with multi-level security capabilities, this feature can allow a service provider, for example, to securely segment a storage resource across multiple clients, enabling client A to rely on Fibre Channel and client B on SCSI. Or, a government agency may similarly securely partition their single library to meet a number of disparate departmental needs while permitting individual departments to preserve their own legacy operating environments: one department may rely on Oracle servers and use a storage management solution from Veritas, for instance, while a second department may use Windows servers with a Legato solution. Equally important, by enabling partitioning, enterprises--especially those subject to regulations such as HIPPA and Sarbanes Oxley--can ensure that data resources can be retained for extended periods of time on legacy tape technologies and then restored using a partition supporting a legacy drive, even while newer technologies are implemented.

With partitioning, organizations can eliminate the need for multiple library purchases by cost-effectively leveraging a single physical infrastructure across a wide variety of needs. Instead of purchasing three separate libraries, each with 100 slots and its own service level agreement, for instance, a single 300-slot library can be purchased. In so doing, capital investment costs can be cut significantly, while management overhead is slashed by at least 50 percent.

2) -- Consolidated management of multiple libraries through a single software interface is a real cost-saving application because, like virtualization, it minimizes management overhead. But instead of centralizing tape resources in a single library, this application cuts costs by centralizing management tasks. As a result, in situations where multiple libraries are required or desired, management staffing needs can be minimized. An organization with 10 libraries sharing a common interface, for example, can rely on a single skilled library manager to deal with the day-to-day configuration and management issues, using less skilled staff to handle simple administrative tasks such as loading and unloading tapes. With this approach, the greater the number of libraries used, the greater the management savings.

3) -- Remote access to libraries is another software feature that dramatically simplifies the complexity and lowers the costs, of management tasks, whether a single library or multiple libraries are present. By enabling library managers to point any browser to the IP address of the library, they can manage that library just as if they were co-located with it. As a result, management tasks can be completed with far greater convenience--and often much faster than if an individual had to travel onsite before beginning a needed action.

This ability to execute immediately in crisis situations helps optimize library performance, ensures backups can be completed within allotted windows and adds a layer of assurance that backups mandated for regulatory compliance can always be completed accurately. With all of the software capabilities of new libraries, the ability to remotely upgrade software/firmware is a "must have."

4) -- Automated tracking and reporting of tape rotations is an essential software feature for any organization concerned about keeping close and accurate tabs on tapes rotated internally, or removed from libraries for offsite storage. By automating the management of tape rotation tasks and by automatically reporting tape location data to the Storage Management Solution (SMS) this feature not only eliminates the need for storage administrators to manually enter tape location data into their SMS, but in so doing, also eliminates any human errors otherwise associated with manual data entry.

By ensuring accurate tape location information, this software feature helps to enable timely and accurate retrieval of tapes needed for any given restoration task. As a result, data restoration time--and any losses associated with deleted or corrupted data files--are minimized. At the same time, being able to access the right tapes at the right time can dramatically shorten compliance audits requiring specific recovery time objectives governing data archived on tape.

5) -- Software key-based scalability enables organizations to add capacity to their libraries at any time, 24X7, whenever they need additional storage to keep backups running. Availability of this software feature helps minimize capital investments because initial purchases can be restricted to immediate capacity needs. Then, as demands increase, additional capacity can be brought online in minutes by simply purchasing a software key--online with a credit card--whenever that capacity is required.

6) -- Remote support, a software feature more affectionately referred to as "ET phone home," reduces downtime and associated costs by empowering the library itself to send e-mail alerts when any problems are encountered--or possible--or when maintenance is required on any components. Based on a library's ability to support SMTP, this is really a combined monitoring/messaging feature that continually monitors system parameters and tracks maintenance schedules. When considering this feature, be sure it can be configured to support sending e-mails not just to vendors, who will, of course, charge fees for responding to alerts, but to internal maintenance staff as well.

7) -- Throughput monitoring capabilities are essential for minimizing risks of downtime and ensuring optimized performance at all times. This software feature evaluates how each individual drive in a library is performing by tracking read and write throughput and reporting results. Armed with read-write data, library managers can fine tune performance and ensure that all disks are operating at appropriate levels. If it is seen, for example, that drive A is idle 40 percent of the time, while drive B is operating at 90 percent capacity 90 percent of the time, then the loads between these drives can be balanced to speed overall throughput and performance.

Embedded Software Is The Differentiator

When evaluating tape libraries always remember that like books, libraries cannot be judged by their hardware covers. It is software features that are the real test, the true differentiator between various manufacturers offerings.

Although the purpose of a tape library is to provide an effective way of managing multiple tapes and drives, the purpose of library software is to ensure that the tape library not only performs efficiently, but that its performance in the context of the overall storage management environment is optimized as well. The most robust libraries achieve this goal by offering internal software applications that reduce the complexities of managing storage tapes and minimize the costs associated with these management tasks. Also important is the ability of library software to simplify compliance burdens associated with maintaining long-term data archives, retrieving data from those archives when auditing procedures mandate including rapid data retrieval.

The bottom line? Don't make your library purchase a wild gamble: Stack the odds in your favor by investing in technologies that feature the lucky seven library-enhancing software features.

Nathan C. Thompson is CEO, Spectra Logic Corporation (Boulder, CO)
COPYRIGHT 2005 West World Productions, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Disaster Recovery & Backup/Restore
Author:Thompson, Nathan C.
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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