Manufacturers of high-end tape drives aim to double capacity and performance every couple of years. Which is exactly what HP has managed with its Storage Works Ultrium 460, the first of the new generation LTO Ultrium drives to be released by the LTO consortium of HP, IBM and Seagate.
The capacity figures are impressive, with the Ultrium 460 able to store a massive 200GB per cartridge. That rises to a potential 400GB with hardware-based compression applied; not only twice the capacity of Ultrium 1, but 25% more than the current leader in the backup market, the Quantum SDLT 320.
Despite the leap in capacity, however, the cartridges themselves remain the same physical size as before, and the tape the same length. The surface media has been improved to support a higher bit density and the number of tracks has also been increased, from 384 to 512. Tape transport speed has gone up and the data encoding scheme has been changed. The end result is a doubling of throughput as well as capacity, to 30Mbytes/sec.
Of course that’s still some way off hard disk speeds, but pretty fast nonetheless. Moreover, the SCSI interface is now Ultra160 compatible enabling us, for example, to back up 30GB of mixed data in just over 20 minutes on our Windows-based test server. Another plus is that, apart from the driver supplied, no special software is needed to configure the Ultrium 460, which can be used with all the leading backup applications.
The drive itself is available as both an internal and external device, with autoloaders and library solutions set to be added to the HP portfolio shortly. Other library vendors are offering the Ultrium 460 in their products, too – a task made relatively easy because drive and cartridges are the same size as earlier, first generation, products.
Working against the new Ultrium is the fact that rival Quantum SDLT products are backwards compatible with the DLT format; the long-time standard in the backup market. Ultrium offers no DLT compatibility whatsoever, but that hasn’t stopped it selling well. This is partly because drives from all three LTO vendors are able to read and write cartridges from any other, a level of compatibility that is maintained with second generation products.
Moreover, the new drives will be able to read and write earlier Ultrium 1 cartridges faster too. The Ultrium 460, for example, can transfer data to and from older tapes at up to 20Mbytes/sec.
It’s not cheap, but the HP StorageWorks Ultrium 460 compares well on price against other high end drives and can’t be beaten in terms of capacity or speed. Unless, that is, you’re prepared to wait another two years for Ultrium 3.
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