IBM Seeks Greater Slice of Virtual Tape Library Pie

IBM (NYSE: IBM) is playing catchup to established rivals in the hot virtual tape library (VTL) market, pushing out a larger, faster tape virtualization solution of its own.

The company today also unveiled new software for automating provisioning tasks for its N series of network-attached storage (NAS) products. IBM plans to ship both by early June.

The company’s new Virtualization Engine TS7530 “is about providing the best of everything,” Charlie Andrews, IBM’s worldwide product marketing director for system storage, told

For one thing, the unit’s 1TB capacity provides 33 percent more room over the previous product, the TS7520, he said.

Perhaps most notably, however, the IBM Virtualization Engine TS7530 uses hardware compression, versus software compression, to gain greater speed and reduce storage costs. While hardware compression may be new to IBM’s VTL product, the technology’s been in play with tape-based competitors for the past year.

Backup data has long been stored with hardware compression on tape, but software compression has typically been used on disk. The hardware compression enhancement is more efficient as software compression steals cycles from the VTL controller.

“That savings may be significant,” David Hill, an analyst at Mesabi Group, told He added that IBM is one of the few large vendors to use hardware compression on disk.

Ease of implementation may also be another plus for IBM’s solution.

“At its heart, the TS7530 is a virtual tape library, but it is more than a virtual tape library because of its tight integration with physical tape libraries,” Hill said, which makes it simpler to tie into physical tape systems.

“Enterprises need highly available and faster backup and restore solutions, and the TS7530 fits the bill nicely,” he added, noting that IBM’s experience in both disk and tape gives it an advantage over most competitors, as “it’s able to craft a solution that integrates the two very well.”

But while the enhancements are good, they’re not quite cutting edge, according to Dave Russell, vice president of storage technology and strategy at Gartner Research. That could come back to hurt Big Blue, which is following the lead of rivals in VTL capabilities. For instance, its new TS7530 offers a 1TB capacity that has already been considered a standard in the space for some time.

Still, IBM has its work cut out for it in seeking to blaze a leadership path in a market packed with at least 15 vendors — ranging from EMC, Sun and HP to smaller players offering specialized capabilities.

In other IBM storage news today, the company also debuted its FlexCache Software for N-series, which provides what IBM calls a “flexible and scalable caching layer” that can help enterprises avoid storage bottlenecks.

The company also announced three new b-type switches — the IBM System Storage SAN24B-4, SAN40B-4 and SAN80B-4 — which support fast 8Gbps link speeds and higher port counts (24, 40 and 80 ports, respectively).

IBM also unveiled new switch blades for the IBM Total Storage SAN256B director, which supports up to 8Gbps link speeds. For small- to midsized businesses, there is the new IBM System Storage SAN04B-R, a four-port router, and the Cisco MDS 9124 Express for IBM System Storage Fabric Switch.

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