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IBM's new midrange tape drive another carrot for SMBs

IBM just can't get enough of the SMB market and debuts a tape storage system targeted specifically for that market.

IBM's campaign to increase storage sales in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) arena inched forward Tuesday, with the announcement of a new midrange tape storage system for SMBs and enhancements to the company's entry-level DS3000 as well as DS4000 disk series.

This is among a number of things that IBM will try to do to really build its presence in
this space.

John Webster
principal IT advisorIlluminata Inc.
"IBM is feeling that it could be doing much better in storage for small and medium business, so this is among a number of things that IBM will try to do to really build its presence in this space," said John Webster, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

The products announced Tuesday are designed to provide SMBs with flexible storage options at prices that won't break the bank, touts IBM in its release.

"What we're trying to deliver to the SMBs is what we call the four S's: simplicity, savings, scalability and service," said IBM's Charlie Andrews, marketing director of storage systems.

IBM's entry-level DS 3000 series, for example, will now come with support for the cheaper, lower-performing Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) drives. Customers will thus gain the flexibility and presumably the costs savings from being able to intermix high-performance Serial-Attached SCSI and SATA drives on the DS3000. Some of the DS3000 series will also get support for IBM's System p servers and BladeCenter power blades.

The product enhancements are also designed to remove some of the "inhibitors" that have kept IBM behind its competitors in the disk market.

"We do have strength in SMB with tape, and we are making sure we stay out in front," Andrews said. "There are two things that technically were inhibitors [in disk sales] that were lifted either in last quarter or will be in this quarter. One is the access to SATA drives. They are better from a cost perspective, but you give up some performance. But for some SMBs, the performance is more than adequate. The other thing that held us back is the lack of iSCSI box, and that we announced last quarter."

The take-home message for SMBs?

It's not easy to decode an IBM announcement, with its arcane names and insanely numbered products. But it's probably safe to assume that the IBM storage products unveiled Tuesday -- the System Storage TS2240 Tape Drive Express model LTO 4 Half-High and enhanced DS3000 and DS4000 disk series -- add viable storage options for smaller businesses.

The System Storage TS2240 Tape Drive Express model LTO 4 Half-High comes with 120 megabytes per second (MBps) data transfer rate, or 240 MBps compressed; 800 GB of capacity; encryption you can turn on and off; continued media support of prior LTO generations and 3Gbps Serial Attached Storage attachment availability. Linear tape open 4 refers to the fourth generation of a now widely adopted standard tape format developed in 2000 by IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and others. Half-high, targeted for smaller customers, allows you to put two drives in the space where you previously put one.

"What LTO 4 provides, at full or half-high, is a doubling of the capacity and a doubling of the throughput, which is a very significant step," said analyst David Reine, director of The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. LTO comes with a "roadmap" for future generations of tapes, promising a doubling of capacity over each previous generation.

"So it is a sound purchase in terms of protecting the investment you are making in today's architecture," Reine said.

Tape is not dead

As for the notion that tape is passé, given the advantages of disk-to-disk backup: Not when storage is expanding by 50% a year, and electricity is rising in cost -- or simply not available, Reine said.

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"Tape is alive and kicking in at the SMB level. We're seeing SMBs with 100 terabytes of storage. When you start backing that up on a daily and weekly basis, you can rapidly accumulate petabytes of information and those petabytes of information are extremely expensive to store on spinning media, because of the electrical charges," Reine said.

The task for SMBs, he said, is to rationalize their data, sorting what information they need instantaneously, what can wait for 10 minutes and what might be perfectly OK to bring back the next day.

The new IBM tape system should also be relevant to organizations using disk-to-disk backups, Reine added, because "disk-to-disk-to-tape is what companies should be looking at" for archiving, for precisely the same affordability and power consumption reasons cited above.

The IBM System Storage TS2240 will be available Nov. 16, with a starting price of $4,495.

Movin' on up

IBM's midrange System Storage DS4000 series disk storage offerings have also gotten a makeover, with new software functions and features available in DS4000 Storage Manager software. The aim of many of the upgrades is to add flexibility. The feature IBM's Andrews said will probably generate the most interest is the addition of RAID 6, a higher-level protection scheme that's a hot topic in the storage biz.

The improved IBM System Storage DS3000 and DS4000 Series will be available Dec. 7.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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