Magazine Article | May 15, 2001

Bridging SANs To Tape

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Is it becoming faster, cheaper, and easier to back up data from storage area networks to tape?

Business Solutions, May 15 2001

What opportunities in attaching tape devices to storage area networks (SANs) exist for VARs? To answer that question I spoke with Kieran Maloney, director of marketing for Boulder, CO-based Ecrix Corporation and Lee Payne, senior product marketing manager for San Diego-based Overland Data.

Payne believes there are now opportunities for VARs looking to attach SANs to tape devices and libraries. However, he believes the process of connecting the two can still be confusing for many VARS. "The tape world is still basically SCSI (small computer system interface)," he said. "Your tape libraries and tape drives themselves are native SCSI interfaces. So what it basically comes down to is which technology are you trying to bridge to." Technology that allows you to connect SCSI-based libraries or tape devices to a Fibre Channel-based SAN infrastructure currently exists. The benefit of going to a Fibre Channel-based infrastructure is the distance it gives you. "With long wave optical you can move data up to 10,000 meters, so you have extensive distance capabilities," he said.

Bigger Pipe = More Opportunities
The opportunities that exist for connecting tape to SANs will also become greater because of increases in throughput. "Currently SANs move data at 1 gigabit (100 megabytes) per second," said Payne. "Those data rates are now going to increase to 2 gigabits (200 megabytes) per second. By June of 2001 there will be new products on the market that will allow you to bridge libraries to SANs at both speeds. These products will automatically sense whether they are connected to a 1 or 2 gigabit SAN and will adjust accordingly."

Payne sees Fibre Channel SANs as a classic solution for backup operations because you now have the ability to push data down the pipe faster. "When you create a pipe that large, VARs will want to take a close look at serverless backup. That is a large opportunity out there. Small to midrange companies might have 500 gigabytes of data to move in a three or four hour window. The only way they can do that is with a serverless backup type of function or a LAN-free type of function. Fibre Channel, with its distance and data rate capabilities, offers a good solution for both.

The Cost Of SANs Is Coming Down
Maloney agrees that there are now more opportunities to connect tape to SANs. "SANs have always been focused on Fortune 1000 type companies," he said. "They are expensive and complex solutions to deploy, so not many VARs and integrators have been involved with them. These installations have been left to the large OEMs and vendors, such as EMC and Compaq. However, as more low-cost SAN solutions are developed, the market will open up to more VARs and integrators. The component costs and the compatibility issues have not allowed that to happen yet, but I think this next year we will see that take place."

Maloney believes a big reason for the increase in SAN opportunities has to do with the decrease in the cost of Fibre Channel. But he also believes that SANs have to become less complex. "The cost of Fibre Channel coming down will increase the opportunities," he said. "That's a big part of it. But the complexity of Fibre Channel deployment is something that traditional networking guys just don't understand. Another part of the problem is that SAN technology has changed so much, the vendors haven't really been able to educate the channel on how to deploy these systems. The technology has been changing on a monthly basis."

Maloney feels Fibre Channel products are real and the interoperability issues that have existed in the past have now been considerably reduced. The cost of switches, hubs, and host bus adapters has fallen substantially as well. With the new 2-gigabit products coming to market, backing up data from SANs to tape will become much faster and easier.

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